Rise of medical tourism as Africans head to India for treatment

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Albertina Nakale

New Delhi-Jacob Nganga, a 31-year-old Kenyan, stood against all odds when he decided to donate a kidney to his mother, who urgently needed medical attention due to severe health complications. This came to light last week after this reporter reported on medical tourism for African patients flocking to India for treatment.

New Era’s reporter formed part of a group of 29 African journalists, who underwent a two-week training programme at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, in New Delhi, India, which serves as a medical tourism hub for patients from around the world who seek affordable and professional medical care.

India has many cultivated medical professionals in various fields that can help patients and many Indian hospitals that possess state-of-the-art medical facilities and cutting-edge technologies, with Apollo being among the leading hospitals in that country.
Some of the medical services provided include cardiac surgery, minimally invasive cardiac surgery, robotic surgeries, oncology services, orthopaedics, joint replacement and also an holistic approach to healthcare.

In the international patients’ lounge at Apollo private hospital, African patients and their loved ones could be seen seeking medical attention. Among them was Nganga, who revealed that his mother was diagnosed with kidney failure last year, which saw him take the bold decision to donate one of his to save her life.

Even though his mother has since been discharged from hospital after a successful kidney transplant, she still has to go through a series of follow-ups. At the time of this interview, his mother was in the operating theater, as he anxiously waited in the international patients’ lounge along with many other needy people.

Nganga said he accompanied his mother to India’s renowned Appolo private hospital in New Delhi, because Kenya does not have the cutting-edge medical facilities for critical operations such as organ transplants.

Although his mother’s medical costs were not easy to come by- the family successfully managed to raise the required U$20,000. He noted his mother’s medical insurance only covered U$5,000 and the rest was financed by the family, excluding accommodation, airfare and other necessities.

They arrived at Appolo private hospital on December 9 last year.
A medical official, who declined to be named, said a kidney transplant in India costs about U$20,000, while the same procedure will cost anything up to U$300,000 in the US.

“She had some complications, so she had to stay longer in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) but she is fine now. The transplant was successful. Back at home (Kenya) we don’t have proper medical facilities to carry out the kidney transplant,” Nganga said.

Besides the lack of modern medical facilities, he says Kenya only conducts three kidney transplants per year. Due to the fact that his mother’s condition was worsening, Nganga said they could not risk her life by being on the waiting list forf very long.

Asked why they chose India, he said they came to knew about Apollo private hospital through a friend, who also underwent a similar and successful transplant. “We sat down as a family and decided to come,” he said with a smile.

Regarding their accommodation, he said he lives at a local hotel not very far from the hospital. He was quick to add that the hotel is relatively cheaper than most other accommodation establishments, as they only pay 800 rupees (N$152) per night.

Nganga said they are still in the dark as to when they will return to Kenya since only the doctor has the final say. The hospital has a list of accredited guesthouses and hotels to ease the burden of desperate patients and other loved ones while in India for medical treatment. Most hotels listed range between U$14 to U$185 per night per person.

Not far from Nganga a middle-aged man was walking around gingerly. He identified himself as Robert Soita, also from Nairobi. His case is somewhat different, because he is the patient and was still struggling to raise the required U$20,000 needed for marrowbone transplant treatment.

He said Apollo has a smaller office in Nairobi but he got the information from the internet, where he was put in directly contact with a doctor. He noted his family and friends are helping to raise the funds to cover his huge medical bill before he could commence treatment for bone-marrow transplant.

“I have been sick for a long time in Nairobi until my medical insurance got depleted. I had almost given up and my friends and family advised me not to give up,” he said.

Soita lives at a local guesthouse and pays 1,300 rupees (N$247) a day, excluding food and other items. He said that living in a foreign country is not easy when it comes to expenses, such as food.

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