Bill bars referring Kenyans abroad as first option

Members of Parliament in Kenya have passed the health amendment bill that proposes patients can only be referred for treatment outside the country if there is sufficient evidence that local hospitals lack the capacity to handle their medical condition.

The Health Amendment Bill 2019 seeks to streamline the mechanisms for referral of patients to health institutions outside the country.

The principal object of this Bill is to amend the Health Act No. 21 of 2017 to introduce a new section that provides for the development of policy guidelines to regulate the referral of patients to health institutions both within and outside the country.

The Ministry of Health will be required to develop policy guidelines on the mechanisms for referrals of patients to health institutions abroad.

The new rule is not just for hospitals and doctors, as individual patients will have to get approval from the Ministry of Health before being allowed to go overseas for medical treatment.

The Ministry of Health suggests that 10,000 Kenyans normally travel overseas for medical treatment, mostly to the UK, USA, India and South Africa, at a cost of at least US$15 million a year.

Some of the most sought after medical services by Kenyans travelling abroad include oncology, cardiac surgery, advanced neuro-spine surgery, transplant surgery, and assisted reproductive technology.

Medical tourism is highly lucrative in Kenya, with some agents being criticised for taking advantage of desperate patients who, in some instances, have paid a referral fee of up to US$4,000. As evidence, MPs accused agents of persuading people to go overseas even when cost-effective treatment was available locally.