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By Louis Kalumbia, The Citizen

The government says it will improve customer care at public health facilities as the country seeks to become the regional hub for medical tourism.

The country will also work on issues pertaining to language barriers to capitalize on the presence of several specialized health facilities in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, the Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender the Elderly and Children, Dr Dorothy Gwajima, said on Monday evening.

She made the remarks when unveiling a team charged with promoting medical tourism in the country. Medical tourism is when a person travels to another country for medical care.

Globally, leading recipients of medical tourists include Malaysia which experiences up to 500,000 medical tourists who mostly come from Asia each year. Malaysia’s health costs are affordable despite having a highly developed medical infrastructure. The list also includes India which attracts medical tourists from Africa and some parts of Asia, with most patients in need of cardiac and orthopedic surgeries. Other medical tourism hotspots include Thailand, Brazil, and Singapore among others.

Dar es Salaam is home to several medical facilities that offer specialized treatment putting the country on the right track to grabbing a pie of the $45.5 billion to $72 billion global medical tourism markets.

Apart from the Muhimbili National Hospital and some world-class private health facilities, Dar es Salaam is also home to the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute (JKCI) and the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI).
Dr Gwajima said improved customer care services should be the focus as the country had everything to make it a medical tourism hub in the continent.

“Our hospitals have good facilities, specialized practitioners, and enough medical equipment. What we are missing is improved customer care to patients,” she said.
“In order to successfully enter the medical tourism hub, hospitals should transform their customer care services and leave room for patients to make a choice.”

Dr Gwajima advised hospitals to identify and reward the best healthcare workers as well as take action against those excessively blamed for delivering poor services.
She said medical tourism increases government revenue, warning however that patients choose hospitals providing better services.

The minister commended the picked team, noting that during the implementation of its responsibilities, private hospitals should be fully engaged, as they possess global standards that will enable the country to meet its goal.

The JKCI executive director, Prof Mohamed Janabi who chairs the team suggested that medical tourism should start at the cardiac institute and be extended to kidney treatment offered by the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).

They should also be extended to the Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute (MOI) and ORCI offering brain surgery and radiotherapy (RT) treatment respectively as well as regional and district referral hospitals. “Medical tourism means patients arrive from foreign countries for treatment and return after recovery, others proceed to country’s tourism attractions and others receive treatment after contracting illness after visiting the country as tourists,” Prof Janabi said, emphasizing the need for strengthened quality of service delivery.

Mr Abdulmalik Mollel, a member of the team, said despite geographical advantages including the facilities’ proximity to the airport and closeness of the hospitals, the country is challenged to address language barriers discouraging some tourists, some as the French-speaking Comorians. President Samia Suluhu Hassan said last month that a study by Patient Beyond Borders shows that about 14 to 16 million people seek medical care abroad annually spending between $45.5 billion and $72 billion.

“Our goal is to harvest a portion of this money from the world, to come to Tanzania,” she said as she inaugurated two state-of-the-art medical equipment at the JKCI.

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