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Ethiopia/Health SystemBack
[Published: Thursday February 22 2024]

 Ethiopia bids to be African medical tourism hub but its health system is struggling

ADDIS ABABA, 23 Feb. - (ANA) - Ethiopia hopes to reinvent its biggest city as an African medical tourism hub with a new $400 million hospital complex set to open next year. But the plan for a major for-profit hospital in a country with a health system close to collapse is already being criticized.
The Roha Medical Campus, which is backed by U.S. investors, is being built close to Bole Airport in Addis Ababa, which is already one of Africa’s busiest air transit hubs. The hope is that patients will stop in the city for medical services rather than flying on to the West, or countries like Turkey, or India.
Africans spend more than $5 billion annually traveling outside the continent, according to Roha’s analysis of statistics from the World Bank and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Many people are seeking advanced medical treatment especially as noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension rise across the continent. Ethiopians spend an estimated $500 million on medical tourism, according to an unpublished health ministry report seen by Semafor Africa.
Lia Tadesse, who stepped down as minister of health earlier this month, has been a key supporter of the project. She told Semafor Africa the government had “prioritized support” for projects like the new center as it could help reduce the need for Ethiopians to spend scarce foreign exchange on seeking medical treatment abroad and open up a new market for the country.
Support from the government has included the Addis Ababa city administration availing 28 hectares of land for its construction and favorable tax status for medical supplies and equipment it imports.
Accessing adequate healthcare remains a major challenge for most of Ethiopia’s roughly 120 million citizens. Damage to medical buildings during conflicts over the last two years has added to pressure on the health system caused by a long-term shortage of hospitals and clinics in Africa’s second most populous country. And those facilities that have remained open often lack basic equipment and supplies.
The situation is exacerbated by a shortage in foreign currency reserves. Hospitals report being unable to purchase necessary medical imports due to a shortage of foreign currency like the U.S. dollar. The forex scarcity has seen some unscrupulous entrepreneurs illegally importing and selling medicines at exorbitant prices and without adhering to regulatory standards.
These challenges lead middle class and wealthy Ethiopians to travel abroad for surgery, advanced tests, and specialized treatment.
Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has been one of the regions most underserved by healthcare services in recent years. A hard-fought two-year war between rebels and the country’s army had devastating consequences for its hospitals and clinics. “The region’s health care system has collapsed,” said Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Mekele University’s College of Health Sciences, a publicly owned institution.
“A majority of our people can’t even afford basic medicine let alone basic care. While such enterprise [Roha Medical Campus] is welcomed, I hope the government gives its urgency and priorities to the public sector more,” the surgeon told Semafor Africa.   - (ANA) -
AB/ANA/22 February 2024 — - -

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