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Medical Tourism in Africa

Scalpel Safari

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medical Tourism africa, cosmetic surgery

Medical Tourism in Africa

Getty Images/Andrew Olney
Medical tourism is becoming big business for a few countries in Africa, namely South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia. According to a recent article in the New York Times, more than 6 million Americans are expected to travel abroad to get medical treatment by 2010. Medical tourism is booming as people seek more affordable surgical and dental procedures abroad. When you're paying a fraction of the cost, staying in a hospital that is reminiscent of a 5-star hotel, and getting treatment quicker than at home, you can see the attraction.

South Africa has long boasted some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world; in fact, the first human heart transplant was performed in Cape Town in 1967. Medical tourists aren't just getting a boob job along with a safari, although that's still the most popular treatment in South Africa. They're also getting hip replacements, cardiac procedures, and dental surgery. A company like Mediscapes, which is based in Cape Town, offers literally hundreds of surgical procedures at a relatively low-cost--and no waiting list. Medical tourism packages will usually include help with medical visas; meet and greet; private nurse; accommodation before and after to recover; and a luxury safari as the cherry on top.

Egypt's film industry is the biggest in the region, and there's a certain glamor to the jet-set of Cairo. Wealthy Middle Easterners, Americans, and Europeans flock to Cairo's smart private hospitals to get their cosmetic surgery and dental work done at a very low-cost. According to Plasmetic.com, the prices for plastic surgery in Egypt are 60-70% lower than corresponding treatment in the US or UK. A thigh liposuction, for example, is done for a mere $260 in Egypt--the same procedure can cost up to $2,000 in the US and $3,000 in the UK.

Another country making a name for itself, particularly in the field of plastic surgery, is Tunisia. Its proximity to Europe makes Tunisia an attractive alternative to India and Thailand (the current giants in the field of medical tourism). Clinics in Tunisia are offering packages which combine a beach vacation with a little rhinoplasty. I'm planning my own trip there this spring... perhaps I'll be tempted to get an upper and lower eyelid correction for just $US 2,800. I'm not sure what that is, but it sounds like a reasonable deal and according to DiscoverMedicalTourism.com, it's about 50% cheaper than anything I could find in the US. I'd certainly look well-rested.

I think it's fantastic that people are able to access affordable surgery, but there is the issue of brain drain from local clinics and hospitals. Surgeons in developing countries are often in short supply, and it can be tempting to opt to work in a boutique hospital in a capital city fixing a double chin rather than operating on poorer patients in a rural clinic. It's also ironic that countries that attract medical tourists are often unable to meet even the most basic medical needs for their own populations. This is not an either/or issue, but it's worth thinking about and perhaps shopping around for a clinic that donates some of its profits to providing medical care for those who can't afford it at all.

If you're in need of surgery, you should know that many procedures are available abroad and they are often carried out by highly skilled surgeons who have been trained in the US or Europe. Some insurance companies in the US are starting to cover medical procedures abroad as well. Just do your research carefully and make sure you are aware of the risks involved in seeking medical attention outside of your home country. Here are some web resources to get you started:

Discover Medical Tourism
TreatmentAbroad.net
medretreat.com

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