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The Myoungsung Medical Center (MCM), a Korean-run health centre in Addis Ababa, is embarking on a $9 million expansion project to encourage Ethiopians to stay in the country for medical treatment.
A growing number of Ethiopians travel overseas each year for treatment to the Middle East, Europe, South East Asia and South Africa. The average cost of each trip is estimated to be $20,000.
In 2011, more than 6,000 Ethiopians visited the Thai capital, Bangkok.
One woman told Capital that she travelled to India six months ago for a kidney transplant, paying around 200,000 birr for her treatment and accommodation.
So-called medical tourism is not unique to Ethiopia.
People from almost every African country travel to countries including Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and India for orthopedic, cardiac and pediatric treatment.
The driving factors for this are a perceived lack of quality domestic healthcare and access to more advanced technology and equipment, comprehensive care facilities and the availability of specialised surgical procedures in other countries.
The head of MCM, Chu Soo Kim, said people pay huge amounts of money for treatment in other countries, but often do not get the proper care they need.
“Ethiopians who seek treatment abroad are very much abused,” he told Capital. He also believes the country loses foreign currency when people leave Ethiopia for treatment, while many services could be provided locally.
MCM’s aim is to accommodate these people and meet the need for local quality healthcare.
“The hospital’s plan is to accommodate Ethiopians but also people from other countries – anywhere in the world,” said Kim.
AB Construction, a local company, has been contracted to build the hospital.
“The foundation has been completed,” Kim told Capital.
Korean engineers will be brought to Ethiopia to complete the project and install the medical equipment.
The hospital has budgeted $8.8 million for the whole project. “The cost could have gone higher if we hadn’t decided to share the current laboratory, laundry and other facilities with the original hospital,” said Kim.
MCM, commonly known as Korea Hospital, was established at Gerji, in Bole District, in 2004 by a group of international organisations, churches and mission organisations.
“The medical center is aimed at providing international standard medical service, trainings for Ethiopian physicians, and helping the poor,” Kim told Capital.
He also explained that the medical centre is not profit-making.
“We however, must make profit for the sake of sustaining only. We therefore would be able to put funding from Korea for upgrading and maintenance purpose for the medical center,” he said.
Treatment at the medical centre, which has 161 beds and five operating theatres in its 18 departments, is more expensive than at government medical centres, but cheaper than other private institutions.
“We receive 2,000 birr for medical treatment for appendicitis,” Kim said.
The centre provides free treatment for Korean veterans, their spouses and anyone requiring treatment but is unable to pay.
According to Kim, the centre has provided treatment to people in this category to the value of $450,000, or 10 per cent of its annual revenue.
The hospital has 430 staff, of which 53 are physicians. “There are 39 Ethiopian physicians in our medical center, while nine are from Korea and the rest from different countries,” said Kim.
The healthcare environment in Ethiopia, while striving to meet the needs of its citizens, is lacking in adequate professional medical providers and services.
There are only 100 hospitals and fewer than 400 health centres in the country.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ethiopia has fewer than three physicians per 100,000 citizens.