Written by Staff Writer at CNN, Luke du Preez
Cape Town, the most popular tourist destination in South Africa , is now a hotspot in the global medical tourism market.
“Before the Ebola scare, I would rarely sell Cape Town as a medical tourism destination — but with the Ebola fears, it’s picked up a lot of steam in the past year,” said Chrissy Kritzer, marketing director at NHSargus.com , a property management company in the destination’s health industry.
Prior to the outbreak, South Africa ranked alongside Mexico and Morocco in the World Health Organization’s list of top destinations for medical tourism to terms such as specific treatments like “cancer survival.”
Cape Town’s Medical Tourism Corridor is home to 45 medical centers.
Since 2010, there has been an eightfold increase in the number of tourists coming from Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates to Cape Town, according to data from the Department of Health. By the same measure, there has been a threefold increase in those from the United States.
But according to Kritzer, this industry has since been affected by increasingly stringent regulations in the United States — which increasingly look upon medical tourists to source quality medical products at cost-effective prices.
The United States Food and Drug Administration requires countries exporting medical products to the U.S. to prove their products are safe and effective before they can be exported.
EU regulations of medical tourism: NHSargus.com and travel writer Beverly Cox recently visited South Africa, where the U.S. FDA is tougher than usual.
Health ministers meeting in Barcelona will discuss how to regulate the export of medical products produced by nations like South Africa in a future “medical tourism C40” meeting.
The industry’s increased regulatory scrutiny — which Kritzer says was brought on by pressure from the United States — forced the company to move its consultancy hub out of the United States and into the Caribbean earlier this year.
“We try to mitigate risk by locating the management team in another location that is not so regulated as the United States,” said Kritzer.
Medical experts and travel experts have cited some reasons for the growth in the sector, including the development of medical tourism clusters such as the Medical Tourism Corridor in the Cape Town area.
NHSargus.com and travel writer Beverly Cox recently visited South Africa, where the U.S. FDA is tougher than usual.
Some South African tourism agencies and hospitals have been particularly encouraged by the arrival of pharmaceutical manufacturers who have been looking to open manufacturing plants in the region in an effort to get their products to patients in a competitive global market.
But much of the sector’s potential in South Africa is seen in the number of medical tourism patients who come in from Europe.
Paules Gudkjer, the CEO of the Medical Tourism Board of South Africa, a government body established in 2009 to develop the country’s medical tourism sector, said that the board’s most common overseas visitors are from the United Kingdom and Germany, while it’s most visible visitors are to Germany.
South Africa’s medical tourism industry is developing rapidly.
Gudkjer added that medical tourism visitors were also largely better educated than visitors to South Africa due to the wealthier demographics, which he says lead to improved standards.