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The Potential of Medical Tourism
Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2011

By Derren Joseph
April 10, 2011

In November 2010, there was an article in another local newspaper speaking of the potential of medical tourism here in Trinidad and Tobago. It was written by the President of the Private Hospitals Association which makes sense as this tends to be a private sector driven initiative. Since then I have noticed at least three of our Caribbean neighbours taking the lead on medical tourism. Firstly, there is Barbados. Over the last few months, I have noticed ads from the Barbados Fertility Centre in our local press. But they are also advertising beyond our region.

Last week, on a US travel site, I noticed a number of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) 'holiday packages' that bundle air fare and accommodation with airport and clinic transfers. Packages range from US$5,500 to US$30,000 and beyond. IVF costs are not included in the package prices. Secondly, there is Guyana. Last month, Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo reported that his government had secured an $18 million line of credit from India to build a new specialist surgical hospital. The new hospital will offer specialised procedures such as organ transplants and cosmetic surgery to medical tourists looking for inexpensive medical care abroad. Construction will start this year and end in early 2014. An Indian company will build the hospital and Indian medical specialists will operate it.

Guyana Health Minister Dr Bheri Ramsaran remarked that "a specialist surgical hospital will be a symbol of the country's future… "This will position Guyana in an advanced stance ahead of many Caribbean countries. This move will see not only Guyanese resident in Guyana, but Guyanese in the Diaspora and non-nationals coming to enjoy an international standard service, while at the same time doing so at a facility that is located in a good environment…to promote the concept of health tourism."

Thirdly there is St Kitts and Nevis. The success of the medical schools in St Kitts, Dominica and Grenada are well known. St Kitts has started constructing an 18-bed surgical hospital. The facility, to be known as the St Kitts American University Hospital, is a joint venture between the American Hospital Management Company (AHMC) and the Royal St Kitts Beach Resort Limited (RSKBRL) and is to be opened in 2013. The proposed hospital hopes to incorporate a medical school which would turn this facility into a 'teaching hospital'. It will be located within the St Kitts Marriott Resort complex. The St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister, Dr Denzil L Douglas noted that "…this new venture will attract patients seeking a quality medical tourism destination such as St Kitts while also finding an effective way of increasing access to state of the art diagnostic equipment for the local population."

Coming back to Trinidad and Tobago, I mentioned that last November, there was an article in another local newspaper speaking of the potential of medical tourism here. It was written by Umesh Rampersad, CEO of West Shore Medical who is also president of the Private Hospitals Association of Trinidad & Tobago (PHATT). He reminds us of our proximity to the US market, which a Deloitte report estimates sent 6.75 million residents abroad for medical treatment in 2010. Rampersad explains that our private sector has approximately 325 hospital beds or 118,625 beds available annually which can accommodate 39,542 patients annually. He firmly believes that Trinidad and Tobago, like our Caribbean neighbours, can claim our fair share of the medical tourism pie.

Clearly, medical tourism already exists here in Trinidad as our private hospitals attract patients / visitors from neighbouring Caribbean territories. But to take it to the next level, it seems to me that our Ministry of Health and our Ministry of Tourism need to start some sort of dialogue if they have not already done so. They need to initiate a process that would result in a strategic marketing plan that would quantify and qualify the opportunity as well as describe the best way forward.

One thing that struck me in reading about the St Kitts project in particular is that it was the result of an in-depth study on Medical Tourism. A study that considered the political, economic, legal, and social environment that frames a medical tourism push. Again it is a point that I never get tired of making. Before jumping on planes, our tourism decision makers need to be armed with a stakeholder-approved strategic plan. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.

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