Kenya and especially its capital, Nairobi, is now considered the hub for business and development in Eastern Africa. The country expects one and a half million visitors this year. Some people argue that it can become a local medical tourism hub.
While under funded government hospitals in Kenya, generally offer poor quality care, poorly staffed facilities with overcrowding and limited service provision, private healthcare is an improvement, with small but modern health facilities and better-trained medical staff. However, for any serious operations, many locals and expatriates look outside the country for help; South Africa being the most popular, while some go to India and the ruling elite prefer the UK, USA or Germany.
To develop local hospitals capable of developing medical tourism, a significant investment in state of the art health care technology would be required.
Many Kenyans are travelling abroad because of lack of high-tech facilities and some perceive hospitals in countries like USA and South Africa as a sure bet to receiving quality healthcare.
With over a thousand Kenyan medical travellers going to India each year, many use the services of local medical tourism agents who handle patient logistics, bookings and medical billing. One such agent is Simon Karo who says the country should have a similar programme where organisations link patients from poorer African countries to Kenyan hospitals to boost medical tourism.
Kenya has some of the best private hospitals in East and Central Africa. The government is spending money to promote tourism and has produced effective destination marketing campaigns. It has also made it easier for visitors to get visas. But official red tape makes it hard to start any new local business. The infrastructure remains undeveloped, health and hygiene need great improvement and the skills of the local labour force are poor. The biggest threat to medical tourism is the security situation, with problems of kidnapping, crime and terrorist attacks even in major cities.
What may drive the longer-term growth in medical tourism on a local African basis, rather than people going to India or South Africa, is political stability. Kenya recently held a peaceful election. There have been calm transfers of power in Uganda, Ghana, Senegal, Zambia and Tanznia.Africa includes seven of the ten fastest growing countries in the world and there is a population of over a billion.
There is a mood that Kenya is among those governments serious about improving the infrastructure, creating private-public partnerships and welcoming foreign investment. With problems in the US and Europe, many local African companies are cutting back on doing business with those regions and concentrating on African countries. Banks are lending as insurance guarantees can protect overseas investors from any political instability.
The public image of Africa tends to be warped by the news headlines, and although for several years Kenya will be an outbound medical tourism destination, there is a potential future scenario where African countries encourage overseas investors to build hospitals that can treat locals and stimulate a regional market in medical tourism.