Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Opportunities in medical tourism, but private investment needed

Medical Tourism is a niche that keeps surfacing in the Caribbean. In Barbados, many have pinpointed that niche as an untapped market, and even though it has gained some attention, it would appear that the drive has tapered.

Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the Caribbean Development Export Development Agency, also subscribes to the view that medical tourism could be a vital niche to the Caribbean, but believes areas such as infrastructure, insurance etc. needs to be addressed further. Mikael Barfod, Head of European Union Delegation to Barbados and Eastern Caribbean States, believes that while there is potential for this sector in the Caribbean, investments are key because it is capital intensive sector.

Some of the business persons who attended the
Caribbean Private Sector Consultation last Friday
at the Radisson Aquatica Resort in Barbados.
Coke-Hamilton elaborated that, “One area we need to focus on more and have a much stronger drive is medical tourism service; it is an extremely viable opportunity for the region and if we are able to actually engage with that in a systematic and strategic way, the returns to the region can be phenomenal. For example, if we look at the fact that so many of our nurses are in the United States, Canada, all over, and they are trained in the Caribbean and utilised in their countries, then it should be no problem with their people coming here. Therefore, how do we leverage that critical component of our professional services in the area of medical facilities to bring medical tourism to the region in a way that enables us to expand by bringing the tourist here and have the spin off effects?”

One of the main issues, she highlighted, “is having the infrastructure that allows us to be accredited – University of the West Indies is credited internationally. Another area is the ability to get insurance from the US, Canada, and Europe to cover people being treated here. If we can somehow negotiate transferability of health insurance benefits so that persons who choose to come here can be covered here, that would be vital to us in the Caribbean. Therefore, persons will come who would want to get better in sunshine and access to spa and wellness in the Caribbean”.

Barfod further noted that, “There is potential for this sector in the Caribbean in this area but investments are key because it is capital intensive sector. The European Union has invested a lot in the health sector in the Caribbean including Barbados. We built the biggest hospital in the region – the National Hospital in St. Lucia – and we are going to invest in the health sector in Grenada, but this is grant money, and to get to a situation where you have a viable medical tourism sector, you need to attract private investment and that is not easy. You have to have good bankable projects.” (NB)

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