When former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe died at a Singapore Hospital on 6 September, he joined a number of African leaders who left their countries to seek medical treatment overseas.
In 2017, Muhammadu Buhari infamously went to the UK for medical treatment for a period of 4 months. Benin president Patrice Talon flew to France in May of the same year for almost a month to treat an undisclosed illness in Paris, France. Ali Bongo, president of Gabon suffered a stroke and was rushed to hospital, in Saudi Arabia on October 24 2018.
Some African leaders have found death on their journey to get healthy. Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa died in France, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi died in Belgium and and Gabon’s Omar Bongo died in Spain. The list of political medical tourists is endless.
Countries pay a heavy cost for this behavior.
It is estimated that in Uganda, the funds spent to treat top government officials abroad every year could build 10 hospitals. Not only do the leaders travel with elaborate entourages, but they also travel in expensive chartered jets. For example, the cost of parking Buhari’s plane during his spell in London in 2017 is estimated at £360,000 – equivalent to 0.07% of Nigeria’s budget allocation for health in that same year.
Africa’s public health systems are in a depressing condition. It is therefore not surprising that people from Africa travel abroad – mainly to Europe, North America and Asia – for their medical needs. In 2016, Africans spent over $6 billion on outbound treatment.
Interestingly, Africa has a billion-dollar medical tourism market and the involvement of African leaders through partnerships could be the key to accentuate it. Indian healthcare entrepreneurs and investors are already making significant moves to corner Africa’s medical tourism market by branching into the continent.
Apollo Hospitals, India’s biggest healthcare chain, is investing in a $70 million, 500-bed hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This multi-specialist facility is intended to serve patients and ‘would-be medical tourists’ in the East Africa region. Another Indian medical company, Biohealth, is investing $5 million in a health facility on the continent for comprehensive cardiology diagnostics, dialysis, and radiology.
Why are African leaders missing such opportunities to build upon their own health and tourism sectors?
Nyasha K Mutizwa discusses in this Travel episode.