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“Medical tourism is when consumers elect to travel across international borders with the intention of receiving some form of medical treatment. This treatment may span the full range of medical services, but most commonly includes dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery, and fertility treatment.”
Grandview Research has indicated that the global medical tourism market size is expected to reach US$ 179.6 billion by 2026, registering a 21.9% CAGR during the forecast period. Nearly 100 million patients have crossed international borders for medical care since the beginning of this century, and even greater numbers have travelled within their own country for unavailable treatments closer to home.
In 2019, more than 20 million patients will continue this practice with international healthcare travel is set to grow at 15-20% in 2019. This growth is fuelled by greater access to quality care, seeking affordable options, while others travel for the best available care without regard to price.
In a recent article published in Arab Health Magazine, Patients Beyond Borders CEO Josef Woodman outlined eight drivers for global medical tourism in 2019:
In the past decade, African countries have experienced an increase in the number of tourists visiting for medical treatment. For overseas visitors, medical tourism in Africa offers services that are often less expensive and of higher quality than patients would have received in their home countries, especially if they are travelling from within the African continent. South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco are among the African countries that are attracting international attention and are targeting investors in the industry.
These markets have the ideal prerequisites for a thriving medical industry: favourable climates, exotic international tourist locations, and highly certified medical practitioners and facilities. Recognising the need for capital and financing to compete with the major medical tourist hubs in Thailand, India, and Singapore, these African governments have embraced international partnerships and have committed to necessary infrastructure development and have secured private capital to finance upcoming projects aimed to propel their countries as top medical tourist destinations.
Although the segment is not as well developed as its Eastern European and Asian neighbours and Tunisia, in some respects, it benefits from a combination of advantages, such as proximity to Western Europe, a pleasant climate, and the availability of numerous low-cost flights to the kingdom. Many Moroccans are fluent in both Arabic and French, making it a particularly attractive destination to both patients from the Francophone world and from Arab countries, which are a lucrative and increasingly important source market for the country. In that way, it will compete directly with Tunisia in the near future.
To enhance the competitiveness of Morocco’s overall tourism industry, Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism launched the national strategy Vision 2020. Its primary goal is to attract 1.5 billion tourists and accessible markets by 2020, with a major focus on the Western and Northern Europe region. The health and wellness tourism sectors are cited in the strategy as two major industries ripe for development and job creation.
According to Oxford Business Group, Medical tourism in Morocco is dominated by cosmetic surgery - of which the kingdom was an early pioneer – and dental treatment. The main incentive for patients to go under the knife in Morocco tends to be financial; cosmetic surgery and dental implant prices in the kingdom can respectively run as low as 30% and 50% of the cost for the identical procedures when they are conducted in France or other parts of Western Europe. In addition to lower operational costs, cosmetic surgery in Morocco is not subject to value-added tax (unlike in some European countries, including France), which further brings down prices.
Marrakech Healthcare City (MHCC), located on the South side of Marrakech on Mohamed the Sixth Boulevard, is expected to become the top medical tourism destination in the county upon completion of the project. The facility will provide a full range of clinical services, from home care to quaternary care, as well as medical apartments and hotel accommodations for rehabilitation and recovery, to support patient throughput, convalescence and family accommodation.
Transfers of patients abroad have decreased by 90% since 2000, reflecting the considerable improvements that have taken place in the domestic system. However, a large number of Algerians still go abroad for more complex medical treatments. France granted 1,600 medical visas for Algerian citizens in 2014, and it is estimated that many more Algerians visiting France on tourist visas seek out medical treatments while there. A sizeable number of Algerian medical tourists also travel to Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey.
From a medical tourism point of view, one very important aspect is the government’s more recent focus on spa tourism. This sector is already well developed and has substantial additional potential thanks to the country’s wealth of hot springs. The segment currently comprises eight large government-run facilities that have agreements in place with major local health insurance providers, such as the state-run National Health Insurance Fund, to provide treatments to their clients, in addition to 13 privately-run spa resorts. In 2017, 70 hot springs across 24 governorates in the country were allotted to private investors for development into spa facilities. This segment, which is part of an ongoing medical tourism plan, is already attracting over 300,000 patients per year.
According to Trade Malta, Algerian authorities are now stepping up efforts to expand tourism, and foreign hotel operators have become increasingly active in recent years. While the mass market package tourism prevalent in many other Mediterranean destinations is not on the cards, or even desired by the authorities, foreign business tourism and niche areas such as medical have strong potential for growth despite.
According to InterMedline, a medical tourism facilitator, the main procedures sought by medical tourists in Algeria include:
With a weakened healthcare infrastructure in Libya, many people travel abroad to Europe and neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Tunisia for treatment. However, a weak Libyan economy and slow payments by the Ministry of Health have affected the ability of Libyans to get care.
“Libyan patients have been coming to Jordan for medical treatment since 10 years ago and Jordanian medical services are known in Libya with its excellence, high quality care services and competitive prices, and because of that Libyan patients and new Libyan government have chosen Jordan as their first and desirable destination for medical treatment both for wounded people and people with other required medical specialties and treatments,” said Dr. Abdallah Hindawi, CEO of Private Hospitals Association, said in an article published in Medical Tourism Magazine.
Meanwhile, official Tunisian statistics show that even before the 2011 revolution, more than 1.5 million Libyans a year used to travel to Tunisia for tourism or medical treatment.
However, according to The Libya Observer, Libya’s Ministry of Health has announced the cessation of overseas treatment in July 2019, after the mass resignation of members on the High Consultative Committee for Treatment Abroad in protest against Libya’s Central Bank's refusal to pay for patient’s treatments. This will affect government-sponsored Libyan patients travelling to Germany, Jordan and Tunisia, in particular.