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More medical tourists are expected to make use of Joburg’s high-quality health facilities after a web portal has smoothed access to what’s available.
PEOPLE from all over the globe seeking first-class medical treatment can now find all of their needs in one convenient location, thanks to a medical tourism web portal that was opened by the Medical Tourism Association of South Africa (MTASA) on 23 February.

Zweli NyathiCity's strategic adviser Zweli NyathiThe portal was officially launched at the Morningside Mediclinic by the group in association with the City’s department of economic development, the Johannesburg Tourism Company, the Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA), the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and ER24.

It will serve mainly as a platform to show what South Africa has to offer in the field and to position the country as a premier destination for health care.

As Johannesburg is the country’s largest city and business hub – contributing over 17 percent to the gross domestic product – it plays a major role in making South Africa a destination of choice for medical travellers. Given this, Joburg’s department of economic development was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

Research was commissioned by the City in 2009 to ascertain whether Joburg had any comparative advantage in attracting a percentage of the emerging international market of medical tourists, the City’s strategic adviser, Zweli Nyathi, said at the launch.

He was speaking on behalf of the portfolio head of economic development, Sello Lemao.

Medical visitors
“The study revealed that Joburg was already a significant player in medical travel trade in Africa, receiving close to 225 000 medical visitors in 2008,” Nyathi said. “On average, a medical traveller brings more than one person and they stay an average of 10 days in the city, spending an average of R1 250 per day and R25 000 for medical treatment.”

Joburg TourismVisitors to Joburg can find medical services and facilities in the new Joburg Tourism portalHighly specialised treatments such as renal dialysis, organ transplants and services such as emergency medical evacuation are in high demand, and altogether it was estimated that about R10-billion was contributed to the Joburg tourism and health economy in 2008 through medical tourism.

Despite the opportunities this presented, the industry was not without its challenges. According to Nyathi, collaborations that would grow the industry were stifled by competitiveness; there were negative perceptions of safety in the city; and Joburg’s high-quality medical services and technology were undersold internationally.

A lack of affordable malpractice insurance, strict regulations in the medical fraternity and the exodus of health practitioners abroad also hampered the development of a flourishing medical tourism industry.

Doctors and surgeons
The City worked to overcome these obstacles and collaborated with local independent medical facilitators to establish a medical tourism cluster for local professionals and businesses. In the process, MTASA was revived by some prominent players and the City was asked to help by facilitating communication with government institutions to generate support for the association, he said.

Support also came in the form of investment in the development of the web portal. “The purpose of the web portal is to leverage the City’s existing medical services infrastructure by showcasing Joburg’s medical offerings,” he explained.

The JTC aimed to amplify the launch of the portal by unveiling its own, which is linked to MTASA’s entity.

“Hosted under the Johannesburg Tourism Company website, the portal allows surfers to make bookings, find medical services and facilities and will soon include packaged products for medical visitors to book procedures at one of the city’s many world-class health facilities.”

Lorraine MelvillMTASA member Lorraine Melvill: Portal gives visitors an opportunity to make informed decisionsCollaboration between stakeholders from various sectors is vital in making the medical tourism industry successful, and the chief executive officer of HASA, Dumisani Bomela, urged all people involved in the project to align their interests for the sake of the patients. “Everyone must work together to make sure the stay is good from touchdown to departure,” he said.

Lorraine Melvill, the owner of Surgeon and Safari and a member of MTASA, concurred: “It is important we move together as an industry because the power of the collective is better than one.”

Launching the portal went some way towards achieving this as it would give patients and consumers the opportunity to make an informed decision before travelling to South Africa for medical treatment and services, she explained.

It would also create more opportunities for the growth of a niche tourism market, and would allow Joburg to showcase the bevy of high-quality medical facilities on offer. “Our hope is to continue working with the Joburg chapter of the association [MTASA] in growing the medical tourism sub-sector towards economic growth, job creation and to identify new entrepreneurial opportunities in the local tourism sector,” Nyathi concluded.

The MTASA portal can be located at Medical Tourism Association; the JTC portal can be found at Medical.JoburgTourism.

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