Destination Spotlight

South Africa ~ The Rising Star on Medical Tourism Horizon

Destination Spotlight

Dr. Molefi Sefularo, Deputy Minister of Health, South Africa participated in the prestigious ministerial round table while Adv. Cawe Mahlati, Chairman of Sebilo moderated a session on quality healthcare during 2nd Global Health and Medical Tourism Congress. Dr. Prem Jagyasi interviewed them to learn South African perspective in medical tourism, and gain insights how they further accelerate the nation’s position as a front runner in the medical tourism field.

South Africa has traditionally been featured as a preferred destination for the medical traveler particularly in the field of emergency treatment as well as elective procedures such as cosmetic and dental.

Coupled with impeccable and internationally recognised expertise, the astounding tourist destinations offer a balmy and invigorating environment for easy and undisturbed recuperation; of course the modern and well equipped clinics complete the satisfying experience. The favourable exchange rates are another attraction for a European or an American health traveler.

Dr. Molefi Sefularo says, “It may be mentioned that South Africa has the distinction of being considered a veritable leader in the medical field ever since the first human heart transplant was performed in Cape Town in 1967”.

According to Adv. Cawe Mahlati, there is a high level of empathy or UBUNTU as it is called in South Africa. The medical staffs blends its undeniable expertise with a huge dollop of humanness which accelerates patient healing beyond compare. Besides, the fluency in English and their qualifications which equal the best in the world are undeniably the backbone of this entire momentum, she enthused.

Tourism in South Africa

South Africa with its breathtaking locales has been registering an increasing number of tourists through the years. Rapidly gaining reputation as the adventure capital of the world, the country’s natural beauty, wildlife and rich and varied cultural tapestry leaves visitors awe-struck and its friendly people and historic freedom struggle places an indelible mark on their heart!

According to Johannesburg Economic Department, the total number of tourist footfall welcomed to South Africa in 2007-2008 was 10 million. An estimated 4.5% of these were medical travelers. Approximately 50% treated in Gauteng (approximately 200,000 patients).

If, of those undergoing any treatment are accompanied by one companion and post an average stay of 10 days with a 5-day stint at the treating hospital, and an average cost of medical procedure being pegged at 3,309.07 USD (for the 5 days in hospital), then the estimated total revenue per annum comes to 1,058,883,989.43 USD which is undoubtedly a sizeable figure, she further opined.

The African Development Report 2008-2009 released in May this year in Dakar Senegal, notes that in the second half of the 20th Century, the African continent, more than any other part of the world has suffered enormously from violent conflict within and between States. This leads to many more deaths from disease, starvation, malnutrition, and the breakdown of health services in situations of conflict than from battle itself.

In wake of such a deep rooted conflict ridden geography, South Africa’s position as a peaceful and progressive nation makes it a perfect refuge to access quality health services. The nation is perhaps the only country in the African continent with adequate facilities to offer innovative and advanced procedures for such medical complications, elaborated Cawe.

Healthcare in South Africa

The health system of South Africa consists of a large public sector and a smaller but rapidly growing private sector. The State offers most basic primary health care at no cost, private sector highly specialized hi-tech health services for those who can afford it. South African healthcare has already demonstrated advancement in healthcare by performing the first heart transplant 32 years back, today private healthcare sector offer most advanced healthcare service.

The public sector is under-resourced and over-used, Department of health’s major achievement in past five years is that they have improved access of health care. They were also able shift acute care to primary care focused healthcare system.

The private sector is growing rapidly; it runs largely on commercial lines, caters to middle and high-income earners who tend to be members of medical schemes. Private hospitals have begun to take over many tertiary and specialist health services including 911 (emergency) services.

Shining in Medical Tourism

The government’s enthusiasm is in to promoting the sector aggressively in recognition of its potential to become a key growth driver. The South African Departments of Health and Tourism officially endorsed the inaugural and well attended South African Health-Tourism Congress whose primary intention was to establish a public platform for deliberation and coordination of the health and tourism clusters to catalyze and drive sectoral coordination.

Typically the country attracts patients seeking cosmetic procedures including breast augmentation and reduction, face lifts, liposuction, and nose and ear corrections. The distance and anonymity of being in an unknown milieu allows the patients to get the procedures done without having to face any embarrassing questions. According to official records, Europeans, in particular those from Germany, Italy, and United Kingdom, have been visiting South Africa for years now to undergo plastic surgery.

Dental surgeries and tooth implants, eye surgeries and laser treatments, and fertility treatments are also popular with foreign visitors. The presence of world class institutes, impeccable private and public sector delivery systems, highly skilled doctors and cultural and location proximity mitigates the price advantage some of the other popular destinations have to offer.

While many healthcare providers and private clinics in South Africa have realized that their country’s natural wonders can accelerate the recovery process for their patients and encourage both post-operative relaxation and exploration.

South Africa is also an ideal destination for government to government contracts. Cawe cites the United States as a case in point; the American government has contracted South African hospitals to treat their consular and embassy staff.

A unique and interesting feature of the South Africa health tourism is the provision of medical services to a significant amount of cross border medical tourism which are medical emergency evacuations, such as gunshot victims or burns victims. It may be mentioned that the continent has been beleaguered with incessant intra and inter nation conflicts for a long time now.

In conclusion, medical facilitators have a definite case to look closely towards this land of plenty, of many and of variety, in placing their patients in nurturing care of its medical experts. The nation in the minds of its people stands for liberty and freedom; from oppression, segregation and prejudice as its peaceful transition to democracy has amply demonstrated. It welcomes participation from global medical community to put their patients in its unparalleled care, Cawe officially invited.

Dr. Prem Jagyasi is a Chartered Management, Healthcare Marketing and Medical Tourism Consultant. Providing high-profile consultancy services to Government Authorities and Private Healthcare organizations, he is noticeably leading medical tourism consultant. He also serves Medical Tourism Association, as an Honorary Chief Strategy Officer. He can be reached at |

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