By Deo Tumusiime
A few days ago, a message popped up on my phone from a rare phone number. I later got to learn that the person attempting to connect with me was in India. I engaged him with intent, hoping to know more about him. “I work with a hospital in India”, he hinted. Well, India is known for its prowess in the medical field, so this was no surprise.
As our interaction matured, the gentleman asked if I was interested in making some money through medical tourism. The terminology sounded catchy and innocent, but it got me thinking deep and led me to many questions. My friend then explained that India has so many good hospitals and is excellent in surgery-no doubt. So being, I was asked if I could identify patients in need of medical services offered in India, a list of which was provided. In exchange of my connections, I was assured I could make up to 700 US Dollars from one patient.
Ah, I began to get a bit disturbed. My mind raced through the many patients for whom fundraising drives have been often arranged to travel to India. A big chunk of the collections, goes as commission to someone out there virtually working for a hospital in India. In essence, patients are now used as items for business, and the possibility of them healing is secondary, plastic at best.
The gentleman asked me if I knew of any local doctors in Uganda, to which I responded in the affirmative. By his question, the local doctors were not seen as cheap first solutions to treatment, but would be helpful in facilitating referrals to doctors in India. The discussion was beginning to get exciting, but I dare say in a negative sense.
Next, I was asked if I knew of any patients that had been taken to India for treatment. I religiously responded in the affirmative with a disclaimer… “Yes, but two died of cancer”. The gentleman with no sense of remorse replied saying, “Ok”. My mind vividly recollected the innocent patients, for whom massive fundraising drives have been conducted and they were actually taken to India and later died and were buried. Along the trail of the “Save so and so campaigns”, it’s probable that someone out there could have been an unintended beneficiary….and who cares whether a badly sick patient recovers or not!!! It’s not the fault of the doctors and certainly not for the supposedly philanthropic campaign coordinators---and this is called “Medical tourism”. Hmmm.
So I asked my new friend how one gets to be paid for such deals, and he responded: “That’s a good question. When patient is admitted to the hospital, after that you will get [your cut] through Moneygram or bank accounts”.
Is commission determined based on sickness? I asked again. “Any kind of patient, you will get 10% of total cost”, was the response, adding that hospitals in India operate on tie-ups, meaning that whoever gets a business and doesn’t have the facilities, they can refer to their colleagues. He went on to stress that “Medical tourism is a fastest growing industry. If you work with focus, you can make a hell lot of money”. And indeed, brokers take advantage of the emotions around others’ sickness-to-make-a-hell-lot-of-money.
A while back there was lots of talk about Uganda getting a cancer machine and how it was not being prioritized. The reason why not, seems quite obvious. That offering the services here, would get some people out of business. I could be wrong, but this medical tourism business seems to be related to so much other rot in our health system. Who know….it could even be pertaining in Uganda itself at micro level with some of the big name hospitals! I once wrote on how patients obviously nearing their death point are kept in intensive care units for several months, accruing bills in hundred million Shillings. How many Ugandans can afford such a bill without?
I am worried that the love for tinted paper called money, is derailing us further and further away from our true sense of humanity. So much so that even when it looks obvious that a patient is so sick and would not recover, someone will still recommend to have them treated in India. Money collected from sympathizers, money spent, patient, dies as expected. Of course depending on the sickness, some may recover-and am not saying India is a death trap. But using patients as gimmick for making money is incredibly inhuman.
We should be holding fundraising campaigns to purchase the technology and expertise that we seek to attain in India, including hiring them Indians to work here or train local labour. I hate the imagination that Indians are intellectually superior to Ugandans. We seem to have just surrendered to them and are not doing enough to match them….just because someone out there is profiteering from patients’ misfortunes.
For all the definitions that may be adduced, medical tourism remotely means an opportunity for a patient and his or her caretakers to travel to a country [facility] where they otherwise would not have had chance to reach minus being too sick. The difference with traditional tourism is that many of these tourists enjoy nothing else other than the fancy hospital facilities, after which, they die; but at least they will have stepped foot (or do they) in India!
Oh what a world we live in!!!
Writer is an independent writer and communications consultant