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Medical safaris: Nairobi’s untapped potential

Medical safaris, more formally known as Medical Tourism, have been in existence for thousands of years. The first recorded instances were Greek pilgrims traveling from all over the Mediterranean to a territory that was the sanctuary of the healing God Asklepios.

Travel to spa towns and sanatoriums seeking healing for long term illnesses was common in the 18th century, and was also an early form of health tourism.

Fast forward to the 20th century, medical tourism has grown into a multi-million dollar industry. The main drivers are patients seeking health care at lower costs; with others wishing to access major medical centres offering treatments not easily available in their own countries. Over 50 countries in the world have identified medical tourism as a national industry, Kenya and specifically Nairobi as a regional hub, cannot be left behind.

That Nairobi is a hub of political, business, tourism and cultural activities in the region is not in question. It boasts of over 100 international companies and organizations that include the UN bodies. Being a regional health hub is making strides, but has some catching up to do with more established health hubs like South Africa and Asia.

Walk into any of the major health facilities in Nairobi, and you’ll encounter lots of foreigners from the region seeking health care in the city. I personally get consulted by foreigners on a regular basis, and so are other medical specialists. Foreign patients cite various reasons for coming to seek healthcare in Nairobi. They perceive our services to be of high quality, travel connections to Nairobi are a breeze, the choice of accommodation is good and cost of care is competitive. And there’s an added advantage of enjoying Kenya’s tourist attractions, some choosing the Mara for recuperation!

So why are we not having plane loads of medical tourists jetting into Kenya on a frequent basis as is the case in India? Medical tourism as a feasible industry in Nairobi is hardly debatable, what has not fallen into place is other parts of the equation. We need to develop specialized health care clusters within the existing network of facilities in the city. Cardiac, Cancer, Fertility, Cosmetic and advanced Surgical centres immediately come to mind. Such centres must then strive to achieve internationally recognized certifications and WHO patient safety standards in order to boost consumer confidence. Each centre must subsequently develop an ‘international patient department’, complete with Health Tourism Case Executives personally catering to differing needs of health visitors. Finally, Nairobi as a health hub destination must be well branded and marketed, and in line with Vision 2030 and Magical Kenya initiatives.

But we must also put our house in order first. We cannot have different standards for Nairobians either. Healthier Nairobians, accessing high quality health services will be better placed to serve medical tourists. Gains will cascade into multiple hospitality sectors, multiplied business opportunities and a globally competitive county.

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Medical safaris, more formally known as Medical Tourism, have been in existence for thousands of years. The first recorded instances were Greek pilgrims traveling from all over the Mediterranean to a territory that was the sanctuary of the healing God Asklepios.

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