SA can be top health tourist destination

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Johannesburg - South Africa is well positioned to become the destination of choice for health tourism.

Addressing the Health Tourism Congress on Thursday on medical preparations for travel tourism ahead of 2010, Deputy Minister of Health Molefi Sefularo said before tourists visit a country, they search for the best healthcare available.

"Health tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world as a result of an increasing number of patients travelling the world in search of the best quality and affordable medical care.

"South Africa has to position itself therefore as a destination of choice for medical healthcare ahead the 2010 FIFA World Cup," he said.

According to the deputy minister, the country's reputation, integrity of health professionals training and a global financial crisis with a favourable foreign exchange rate from the developed countries has resulted in an ever-increasing flow of patients coming for treatment to South Africa.

He said there was much scope therefore for collaboration between the medical, tourism, hospital and travel industries.

Dr Sefularo told delegates that the management and co-ordination of infectious disease importation, including emerging and re-emerging infections needed centralised leadership.

"The advent of the HINI (swine flu), Bird Flu, Congo Fever, Wild Polio Virus, Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDT-TB) needs central control and management," he said.

The deputy minister further reiterated the need for the health tourism industry to work with his department as it was important for communication, security, integrated disease response and intervention.

He said the 2010 FIFA World Cup has pushed the agenda so that there was collaboration between the public and private sector in responding to the needs of the expected 400 000 international visitors.

The Health Technical Task Team projects, led by the department, are underway with 15 Expert Work Groups currently operational.

"The group is focusing on various areas such as emergency medical services (EMS), communicable diseases, environmental health, port health, stadiums among others," the deputy minister said.

He said there is collaboration between the departments with the South African National Defence Force in providing the necessary back-up for emergency events.

"This includes the ability to set up hospital posts in poorly resourced areas to respond to mass evacuations when necessary.

"As well as collaborated efforts with the South African Red Cross Society in terms of support for aero-medical transportation if the need arises," he said.

He said the EMS had demonstrated that they were able to respond to the needs of global events during the FIFA Confederations Cup in June.

"Although there were some areas that need improving as we prepare for the 2010 World Cup, our successes far outweigh those deficiencies.

"The event provided us with an invaluable experience and there is no doubt that this experience will contribute vastly to ensuring that a world-class health and medical service is provided in 2010," he said.