Medical Tourism: The trip you dont want to take
Inside the $72 billion dollar industry
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Welcome! This week I’m in Delaware. Before you ask - no, I’m not incorporating a business.
I’m visiting family and taking it easy after a huge few weeks of San Francisco meetups and events.
I’m loving the family time here with uncles, aunties and new baby cousins.
That context makes this edition very meaningful, because today we’re talking about family health and illness. This one will be personal and real.
Heads up: Death will be brought up a few times and you will see pictures of people who have passed away.
It's also our first sponsored edition, and I'm pumped to partner with Fleri to make this happen. They have an incredible story and I'm excited to share it with you.
And judging from some of the comments here, I think this will strike a chord for a lot of readers.
A few quick notes before we start.
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Medical Tourism: The trip you don't want to take
In 2017 my grandma went from Ethiopia to Thailand for a month. Usually, that would be called ‘tourism.’ But she was a different kind of tourist.
My grandma had suffered a heart failure and needed a valve replacement.
But she lived in Ethiopia, and the hospital in Addis Ababa didn’t have the facilities for the surgery.
If she didn’t have surgery immediately, she would die.
My family had come together to decide where she would get treatment - and quickly.
Nairobi, Kenya? A two hour flight, but not the best facilities.
The United States? Great facilities but far too expensive, and needed a visa to enter.
Bangkok, Thailand? A 9 hour flight, but a great medical hospital and a lot more affordable.
Two days later, my uncle took my grandmother to get treatment at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok.
And it wasn’t just a hospital.
It was a hotel - designed just for people like my grandmother and her family who took care of her.
My grandmother's ‘medical tour’ was an intense, scary experience and we're grateful that she's healthy now. But it’s not just my family who have experienced it.
Africa experiences 24% of the global burden of disease but it has only 2% of the global supply of doctors and less than 1% of expenditures on global health.
If you’re lucky enough to afford it, to get good care, you (usually) need to go elsewhere in Africa.
This is called Medical Tourism and it’s an entire industry. One that’s worth $72 billion.
A Taj Mahal visit with those new teeth?
The countries that Africans are travelling to aren’t the ones you might expect - like the US or UK.
They’re more like India, Thailand and Taiwan - all with high quality international hospitals and medical facilities.
And while it’s hard to get specific numbers, India’s Home Ministry reported that 825,000 foreigners visited the country for medical treatment between 2019-2021. Most of them from African countries.
And it makes sense.
A kidney transplant in India costs about $13,000.
The same procedure will cost up to $300,000 in the US. The difference in cost makes medical tourism attractive to everyone in the world - even US citizens.
So these countries have taken the cue, building their medical tourism industries.
Thailand issued new visas that let visitors stay for up to a year for medical reasons.
India is trying to loop in actual tourism with medical tourism. Kumar’s Taj Mahal Tours are actually Dentist appointments with day tours attached to them.
A quick trip to the Taj Mahal, anyone?
And while it’s good to have global options for health care, the reality is: if you can afford to be a ‘medical tourist,’ you’re one of lucky ones.
Most Africans cannot pool together tens of thousands of dollars for medical expenses like my family did.
In fact, when it comes to health care, 97 million Africans (or 8.2% of the continent’s population), pay ‘catastrophic healthcare costs’ themselves.
At the foundation, healthcare needs to improve in Africa. The continent needs more public and private sector investment. And to support more incredible startups in the space.
But on the individual level there needs to be more preventative care and planning.
And a few startups are stepping up in this space - including Fleri.
Fighting Tragedy with Prevention
Meet Sam and his family. His family lives between the United States and Ghana.
In 2020, Sam’s grandmother fell sick. Sam and his family sent money to her for treatment.
Sam's family. His grandmother is in the middle holding the walking stick.
But instead of going to a hospital, she went to a traditional healer for treatment - a local doctor who treats illness with herbs and traditional knowledge.
The next day, she passed away.
It was tragic for Sam and his family.
Sam puts it well: ‘as diaspora, it’s your responsibility to care of your family back home.’
Whenever his family in Ghana needed money, he would send it. But it wasn’t always being spent the right way.
So he started Fleri - a platform that lets immigrants pay directly for health care for loved ones in Africa, rather than just wiring money back home.
When you join Fleri, you get a Family Care Manager - someone in your family’s country who speaks the same language and becomes their point of contact for care.
Fleri sends monthly wellness reports, makes sure your family can access the experts they need and will get your family to their appointments. That level of care has changed lives.
Like it has for Fred and his father. Fred lives in the United States and his 94 year old father lives in Ghana.
Before Fleri, every medical interaction his father had was an emergency. It was terrifying, expensive and unsustainable.
Through Fleri, his family care manager coordinates quarterly check ups for his father. His doctor knows him by name. And his father's health has improved.
Sam (Fleri’s Founder) with Fred’s father. Fred is Fleri’s oldest beneficiary at 94 (and looks great).
Sam’s experience was tragic and avoidable.
He wants to build a world where diaspora don’t lose family from preventable health issues - just because they live in Africa.
That’s why I’m such a supporter of Sam and his mission at Fleri in helping Africans go from emergency trips (like my grandma's) to preventative care.
And I’m excited that Fleri has just launched their Fleri Memberships to the public.
To learn more about getting better oversight and care for your family in Africa, learn more about Fleri below.
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