HomeNewsIndia’s health tourism drawcard for Zim’s ailing population

India’s health tourism drawcard for Zim’s ailing population

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THE debilitating collapse of the country’s health sector after years of underfunding and mismanagement since the turn of the millennium has seen thousands of Zimbabweans — particularly the rich and the powerful — seeking medical attention abroad.

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SONY DSC

 

THE CENTRE SPREAD

BY PHILIP CHIDAVAENZI

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Although the United Kingdom and South Africa were for many years the destination of choice for those seeking respite from the colossal shadow of terminal sicknesses, India has of late become the alternative pick.

The late actress Pretty Xaba (centre) sort medical attention in India

Among the prominent locals who have made the great trek to India was the late iconic actress Pretty Xaba at the height of her battle with cancer. She, however, unfortunately succumbed to the illness in December last year at age 49.

Prior to her death, there had been a series of fundraising events to finance her travel to India for treatment under the Save Pretty Campaign ran by her long–time friend and fellow actor Tavonga Mafundikwa.

She had received $20 000 from Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries leader Walter Magaya to cover part of her costs.

In November last year, Great Zimbabwe University marketing student Mollen Ndinatsei Makoni, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening chronic kidney disorder, underwent an urgent kidney transplant in India through a sponsorship package raised by Chivi Rural District Council chairperson and Zimbabwe Amalgamated Housing Association (Zaha) director Killer Zivhu.

Zaha director Killer Zivhu, Mollen Ndinatse Makoni and her young sister Tendai  who donated her kidney at a press conference yesterday
Zaha director Killer Zivhu, Mollen Ndinatse Makoni and her young sister Tendai who donated her kidney at a press conference yesterday

Makoni returned home last month after the successful operation following a kidney donation by her younger sister and the sponsorship package of $25 000.

“I had been left with no hope to life. I thank Zimbabwean citizens for showing unity and love as they spared no efforts to fundraise for me to undergo the operation,” Makoni said upon her return.

Makoni was the second beneficiary of Zivhu’s Wezhira Ndionewo Project after the first beneficiary, Charles Munodzana, had died on his way to India to undergo an urgent heart valve replacement operation.

India has also been a medical attraction even for those in the corridors of power, including former Presidential Affairs minister and Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa who in December last year travelled to India seeking medical attention.

The trend of people seeking medical succour in India has been on the ascent and one of the country’s biggest medical insurers, Cimas, was issued with an air operator’s certificate in May 2014.

Cimas board chairman Mordecai Mahlangu told shareholders at the Society’s Annual General Meeting last year that the attainment of an operator’s certificate made it possible for Cimas to operate an air ambulance for patients who needed to be flown swiftly to a medical facility.

CIMAS
CIMAS

“The reason for travelling further afield in search of medical attention, did not lie in the quality of medical treatment available locally, but in the cost. It had proved cheaper for patients to travel to places such as India for treatment than to receive it locally,” Mahlangu said.

He added that the cost of travel, accommodation and treatment in India was generally less than receiving treatment in Zimbabwe.

The First Secretary at the Indian Embassy in Harare, R S Malhotra, told NewsDay that in 2014 alone, the embassy issued 259 medical visas to Zimbabweans and 267 medical attendant visas.

He said the increase in the number of locals seeking health services in India was a vote of confidence in the Asian country’s health system.

Parirenyatwa Hospital.
Parirenyatwa Hospital.

He said although the embassy did not keep records on the exact nature of the exact health services sought by locals in the India, they had several indications.

“The Embassy does not keep account of the kind of medical services sought by Zimbabweans in India. However, it is our general impression that they go for treatment for arthritis, cancer and cardiac surgery,” he said.

He, however said although they have had no direct feedback on the success rate of the medical procedures, they have not heard any adverse reports to date.

He added that medical services in India were often high quality and financially affordable.

“Obviously, Zimbabweans find medical treatment in India of quality and at economical rate and that is why they go to India for medical treatment,” he said.

India has virtually become an oasis of medical tourism by Zimbabwe and the great trek to the Asian country saw the establishment of IndiZim Health, a partnership between a local entity and an Indian company to facilitate the referral of patients to India.

The partnership was launched in Harare in March after IndiZim Health partnered with Apollo Hospitals in India to facilitate affordable and specialised health treatment for Zimbabweans.

The critical shortage of local specialists has seen a lot of patients seeking expensive treatment in neighbouring countries like South Africa or from specialists who are in private practice.

During the launch, Apollo Hospitals Central Region chief executive officer Hari Prasad said many countries were sending their patients to India because of the level of expertise and the cost factor.

“We want to assist developing nations like Zimbabwe in supplementing what is required in their medical field. You need advanced treatment for cancer, heart transplant and other complicated ailments — but without the required equipment and medical experts it’s difficult to get treatment locally,” he said.

“Patients can either bring a letter of guarantee to seek treatment or use their medical aid as we will not be demanding cash up front. We will work with selected medical aids in the region for patients to access the best medical treatment at affordable cost.”

A heart surgery which costs $70 000 in the United States and $15 000 in South Africa can be carried out for $5 000 in India.

Although indications were that the IndiZim partnership has since collapsed over undisclosed reasons, at its peak, it was responsible for choosing the best treatment options that matched the patient’s pocket, making bookings with reputable doctors and surgeons, booking patients into hospitals and collate all data required by the Indian group in relation to the patient, among other things.

Upon the patient’s return to Zimbabwe, IndiZim Health’s medical staff was often required to monitor the patient’s convalescence and provide feedback to the doctors in India.

Former Midlands governor Cephas Msipa last year lashed out at people who shunned local health facilities and expertise as they sought treatment in foreign lands.

He urged Zimbabweans to utilise local health facilities rather than seek treatment abroad during the official handover ceremony of a new $1 million casualty ward built with funds donated by Anglo Platinum Unki Mine at Gweru Provincial Hospital.

“Our doctors and nurses are capable and compete well with other health professionals in other countries. There is no need for people to go to India and other countries to seek medical attention because our own practitioners are equally competent,” he said.

The former Midlands governor said several people had advised him to seek treatment in India for an undisclosed ailment, but he refused and insisted that he would never seek treatment outside the country. He said: “Some people always say go to India for treatment, but I have always refused.”

The collapse of the country’s once vibrant health sector has left millions of Zimbabweans grappling with serious medical conditions requiring specialist treatment.

While many specialists have left in the country in pursuit of the proverbial greener pastures, the few who remained charged exorbitant prices that many could not afford.

Observers say the existing health infrastructure such as hospitals no longer has the capacity to provide quality health care and that is a violation of the provisions of the Constitution that guarantee the right to health to all citizens.

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