Taken from Collective Evolution
While researching Kenyan coastal healthcare and other data
regarding health and lifestyle issues across Kenya, I came across a variety of articles
discussing the benefits and consequences of medical tourism.
In the recent years, Kenya has seen an increase
of over 30% in tourism. Factors such as more political
stability, improved security, increased and better options for flights, as well
as more captivating marketing techniques have all attributed to the growth in tourism.
However, the potential for growth in sectors like health tourism have not reached their full potential. If tapped into, this sector could continue to increase the number of foreign visitors for years to come, which would have positive effects on the national economy.
is defined as “organised travel outside one’s local environment for the
maintenance, enhancement, or restoration of an individual’s well-being in mind
and body.” This can include medical tourism, which, according to the World
Health Organization (WHO),
is classified as traveling outside of “international borders to receive some
form of medical treatment” for reasons such as affordability, accessibility,
and shorter wait times.
In 2017, the United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development released a report
stating that Kenya is becoming one of Africa’s top
beneficiaries for cross-border travel for medical purposes. This demand
is opening up a market that has the potential to provide a boost for the economy as
The possibility for growth that health tourism offers
is multifaceted. In a previous
article, the Aga Khan University East Africa Institute reported on the
difficulty that many youth face in finding meaningful employment. Due to
the lack of job opportunities, many youths do not continue into post-secondary
education. However, an increase in demand for specialised medical care must be
met with an increase in the supply of these health care professionals.
Therefore, prospective and current students in post-secondary education may
have more incentive to continue and complete their degrees in order to work in
this new, up-and-coming field. That being said, this is only possible if
funding and access to education are not an issue for the youth in Kenya, unlike
present circumstances. There would also need be an improvement in the
investment and infrastructure by the government to allow for this growth.
If health tourism is further developed in Kenya, there
would be additional collateral benefits from foreigners seeking medical
treatment in sectors such as lodging, food services and transportation. There
would be a surge of job opportunities and a market for new
entrepreneurial ideas if funding for these ventures is made available. Not only
would this be beneficial for the youth, but for the Kenyan economy as a whole,
with the government generating revenues through foreign exchange and fees from
provision of visas.
The case of Karen
hospital is a perfect example, where they are currently accommodating
medical tourism by providing treatment packages, visa assistance,
transportation, hotel services, language interpreters, and diverse food options. Evidently, the admission of even one patient has a ripple effect by creating business for all of these sectors, but perhaps the most beneficial result would be the incentive to invest in strengthening healthcare infrastructure, which would have positive implications for all.
The promotion of health tourism, therefore, can create a
mutually beneficial environment for both foreigners and Kenyans by further
promoting Kenya on the international stage while improving accessibility and
infrastructure at a local level. In spite of this, it is important to recognise
that there are some unintended negative consequences that would result from
If the funding was available to
support the increased infrastructure that would be needed to accommodate
medical tourism, the medical system would likely be split up into two separate
tiers – private and public. As most of the tourists would be dealing with the
private tier, there is the potential to lose many of the current healthcare
professionals to this sector. That would leave a struggling public health system
in shambles and would continue to be very detrimental to those who are already
unable to afford healthcare. The result of an under-resourced public system
would further exacerbate the disparities between socio-economic classes.
Experts project that medical tourism
will easily continue to be a viable sector which has the potential to bring a great deal of income
into the economy, notably from foreign sources. However, moving forward, it’s important
for approaches to be carefully analysed in order to understand the consequences
that could be faced by Kenya’s most vulnerable populations.
is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on health, youth and identity
in coastal areas of Kenya.