Medical Expertspeak: Mauritius needs specialty edge to be Africa’s medical hub
Dr Pankaj Wadhwa, founder, Pain Management Clinic, Port Louis, spoke to AfricaMoney on how Mauritius must establish a reputation for specialty treatments to become a medical hub, not just for the Indian Ocean region but across Africa.
Dr Pankaj Wadhwa, founder, Pain Management Clinic, Port Louis, spoke to AfricaMoney on how Mauritius must establish a reputation for specialty treatments to become a medical hub, not just for the Indian Ocean region but across Africa. The medical evangelist, who recently won the Susan Raj Young Pain Physician of the Year Award by the US-based World Institute of Pain, took us through his journey in the medical scape of Mauritius where implementation doesn’t always keep pace with policy.
Could you elaborate on your interests in medical investment in Mauritius?
In Mauritius, it is common knowledge that diabetes and cancer are on the rise. Of course, the government’s efforts in providing free medical care to all citizens are commendable, but there is a long way to go to even approach best practices in medicine. Our initiative in pain management in Mauritius is a first in the Indian Ocean region and only the fourth in Africa. This in itself gives you an idea of the sheer dearth of specialized clinics on the island, even as big hospital chains offering general treatments are on the upswing. So, Mauritius offers vast scope for medical investment, as the island has a lot of potential to grow in terms of quality, if not quantity.
Having spent the last three years exploring the medical landscape of the island, what are your views on Mauritius as a medical hub?
Mauritius is an interesting case study. The island offers all the supportive facilities that can transform it into a medical mecca, but thrust and drive are lacking at an implementation level. Let’s look at all the tick boxes first – Mauritius is politically stable, an upper middle income economy, has a stable population approximating 1.2 million over the last 5 years, and has an investment promotion authority in the form of the Board of Investment (BOI) that is truly best-in-class.
But, time and again, investors find themselves stumped by implementation issues, and their dream fails to translate into reality. Lack of skilled resources in the medical space, the laid-back attitude of local support staff and no documentation of on-the-ground issues – all these make the island economy, otherwise a veritable paradise for medical tourism, an implementation nightmare! However, this is not to say that there have been no successful forays into the medical space in Mauritius. A few years ago, when Apollo came in with a big, 200-bed hospital, it forced other hospitals and clinics to pull up their socks and focus more and more on customer satisfaction.
In light of big hospitals having opened in the island, do you feel the space is getting crowded or there is room for more players?
Well, quality rarely goes hand-in-hand with quantity. To illustrate, 44% of the population on the island suffers from diabetes, but there are very few diabetes specialists on the island who offer the latest treatments. Basic disease management is all very well but what a medical hub must possess are the most current skills in the arena of medical treatment. So, the medical space may look crowded, but, scratch the surface and there is more than enough room for specialty players – liver transplant clinics, neurology clinics, joint replacement centers, palliative care, cosmetology centers, specialty cancer centers, cardiology centers and pain management clinics – that can easily find their place under the sun in Mauritius.
Compared to other companies, are there more rigorous background checks that a healthcare provider has to go through in Mauritius? Does this impact speed of setting up business here?
Not really. Everything is good on paper. It is just that ground reality does not keep pace with policy. To elaborate, the legal framework for setting up healthcare facilities is conducive and there are no issues from a policy perspective. However, implementation is extremely long drawn out and exhausting.
Having said that, the government of Mauritius has the drive to make the island a medical hub for Africa and beyond. A determined medical entrepreneur can avail of the conducive policy framework and facilitate the setup of his project through the BOI and the PMO office.
In your view, what is the main source market for medical tourists in Mauritius?
Unfortunately, Mauritius has yet to go beyond the Indian Ocean territory in terms of its source markets for medical tourists. With neighbouring islands such as Madagascar, Seychelles, Rodrigues and Comoros contributing the main inflow into the island for medical tourism, it is a case of the half blind leading the blind. To explain, the normal level of healthcare on the surrounding island nations is below par. They turn to Mauritius for basic healthcare facilities that are otherwise lacking in their own country. Only if Europe, USA and even South Africa, start contributing patients in significant numbers can it be said that medical tourism in the island nation has truly taken off.
How is the market growing and what is attracting patients and investors to Mauritius?
First up, it is the island’s low-cost advantage that attracts foreign patients to Mauritius. In-patients from countries such as France and Spain, for instance, find the island offering treatments at far lower rates than available to them back home in Europe.
Secondly, established players such as Fortis and Apollo are going the extra mile to ensure that the island develops a reputation as a quality medical center. Fortis, for instance, is planning to open satellites in surrounding islands for cardiac procedures. Apollo is also tying up with medical establishments on neighboring islands for cancer surgeries. With the assistance of skilled resources from India, these major hospital chains are trying to bring in specialized treatments into Mauritius.
Finally, specialty clinics are finding their efforts taking root – the Hair Transplant Center has picked up well, the Eye Clinic is gaining steady momentum, while our Pain Management Clinic is also seeing increased interest from foreign patients from far-off France to nearby Reunion.