When illness knocks, you have no option but to open the door and deal with it as quickly as possible. You do not question or bargain. If you are told treatment costs KSh 2 million you accept, raid your savings or appeal for financial help. It is normally a race against time.
For 38 year old Judith Mwangi (name changed for privacy), it was devastating when she was told that the lump on her left breast was malignant. She had four children, the eldest had only turned nine years old and her youngest was barely a year. “Our world collapsed, we saw death,” says John Mwangi, Judith’s husband.
The doctor recommended surgery immediately. However, it had taken eight weeks to see a doctor, have tests done and get the diagnosis. The Mwangi’s were not sure they wanted to wait that long. By then, the couple was living in Uganda where John worked for a Kenyan bank.
Before getting an alternative, they sent Judith’s lump sample for tests in South Africa. The tests reconfirmed that she had cancer. “We got into a panic and called relatives in Kenya. My sister recommended I come to Nairobi immediately,” she reminisces. A week later, Judith had a mastectomy because the cancer had spread to her glands and she was put on chemotherapy. It was a very trying time for the family.
Seeking several opinions
For a majority who cannot afford to get proper healthcare, every minute that passes is a step closer to the grave. The lesson the Mwangi’s learnt was to seek a second and third opinion. “After the surgery in Nairobi, we decided to seek another third and fourth opinion. This time we opted for India. Since cancer treatment is long-term and our local insurance was running out, I knew were going to be in trouble if I did not plan ahead,” says Mwangi.
A friend introduced the couple to Magnus Meditourism, one of only two companies in India that is approved by the government of India as a medical facilitator. “We work on a very clear model to give information about all hospitals across India. We give patients the different costs for different doctors with highest possible experience and quality to make informed decision,” explains Mihir Vora, the Magnus MediTourism Chief Executive Officer.
Challenges Kenyan face when seeking treatment in India
The script is always similar. A patient asks friends who have been to India to recommend a medical facility. “Your friend may have gone to India for cardiac treatment and you go there for cancer treatment. You don’t know which hospital is better and which hospital is better priced,” says Vora.
Mwangi says there are very good hospital across India even in small towns and patients can save up to 30 to 40% of the cost without compromising on quality at all.
Another headache for the traveler is logistics like accommodation, travel, currency exchange and communication. This is the crucial role Magnus MediTourism plays. “We offer patients going to India packages that include: a sim card, forex, transport and accommodation,” says Vora. Magnus is also an IATA accredited travel agent.
Sadly, many patients get a quotation from doctors and hospitals and go with the option without asking questions or doing research. “Many patients who come to us complain that there is a major difference between the cost they get before the treatment, and what they are billed. The bill escalates up to three times!” says Vora. This is the gap that Magnus tries to reduce.
Common cancer cases from Kenya
There are many Kenyans now seeking treatment in India. “All types of cancers are being treated in India. However form Kenya there are many cases of breast cancers,” says Vora.
According to Mwangi, the best approach to use when seeking specialized treatment in India is getting as many options as possible. “If you need to travel outside your home country for medical treatment, look at options to enable you make an informed decision. Do not get one option and pick it as the best,” he advises.
The Mwangi’s also learnt another lesson. To have proper tests and diagnosis done. This enabled them send the information to as many hospitals as possible and they were able to get a treatment plan. “You should know your diagnosis before traveling and have someone who can arrange your itinerary properly.”
India has over 450 hospitals that are accredited by the government of India and 18 hospitals that are Joint Commission International JCI accredited. They are all open to receiving foreign patients.
First thing you should check before going to a hospital in India is whether they are accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH, India). NABH assures the quality process and standard for local and international patient. “If a hospital has the NABH accreditation, there are certain set rules and policies for the patients which will assure you quality,” Vora explains.
From their research, the Mwangi’s discovered very good hospitals in smaller Indian towns that have the same kind of equipment and experienced doctors compared to big hospitals that are known to international patients. “These hospitals in smaller towns have very good facilities and because they are not known, their names do not feature when you ask Kenyans. We found many of these and they very affordable while giving good service,” explains Mwangi.
“Sometimes certain hospital have the best heart centre which is best priced, so it may be well affordable than tier two cities. Sadly Kenyans will not know until they ask for options,” says Vora.
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