In an aggressive push to put Tunisia on the medical tourism map, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali has directed his government to draft an action plan focused on encouraging foreign patients to visit the country for medical treatment.
The draft action plan is expected to include the creation of a special government body to promote the country’s healthcare sector. It will also include recommendations for the development of a medical resort and the development of designated medical tourism zones around the country.
In a cabinet meeting held last month to discuss the action plan, it was also agreed that special measures will be included to encourage convalescent homes and retirement communities to open their doors to foreign patients.
Tunisia has seen a steady growth in the arrival number of medical travellers seeking inexpensive but high quality healthcare. Last year, foreign patients visiting the country reached 102,000 – nearly double the 2005 figure that was recorded at 55,000.
Based on present trends, patients from Africa and the Middle East go for heart surgery, eye treatment, neurological and orthopaedic cure; while medical travellers from Europe visit for liposuction, breast implants and dental surgery.
Tunisia is now the leading medical destination in Africa, overtaking South African where health tourism has been burdened by its “ surgery and safari”.
The country is the second most popular destination for spa and thalassotherapy (application of sea products – primarily seaweed – for beauty and health purposes). Last year, Tunisian thalassotherapy centres welcomed some 150,000 visitors, mostly from Europe.