According to an article in the Libya Chronicles, a wave of Libyans have travelled to Tunisia for medical care since the revolution in 2011. While Tunisian statistics show that before the revolution, more than 1.5 million Libyans a year used to travel to Tunisia for tourism or medical treatment, this is an unreliable predictor for medical tourism, and numbers are now declining.
The article says that Libyans, struggling with a severely underdeveloped healthcare system, have been escaping for services in Tunisia – within short travel distance, sharing cultural similarities and a common language.
In the revolution’s aftermath, the Hannibal International Clinic in Tunisia took as many as ten Libyan wounded per day, according to Dr Jerbi, the clinic’s medical director. From 2011 to 2014, around 50% of the capacity of private sector Tunisian health facilities catered solely to Libyans, suggests Dr Jerbi. But he estimates that the occupancy rate has now collapsed to “around 20% or less“.
Part of the reason for the big drop-off in numbers is economic – the number of Libyan patients has declined significantly since 2015 as the turmoil in Libya severely weakened the purchasing power of the average Libyan amid economic hardship, dramatic devaluation of the Libyan dinar, rampant inflation and a severe liquidity crisis. Libyan households have lost almost 80% of their purchasing power over the last four years, according to the World Bank.
Another reason is that a large number of wounded or ill Libyans receive healthcare in Tunisia at the expense of the Libyan government, this policy has not worked out well, as many of the bills are never paid.
In August 2018, the press attaché at the Libyan embassy in Tunis announced that Libya’s debts to Tunisian private clinics had built up to 218 million Tunisian dinars (around US$70 million). While some Tunisian healthcare facilities treating cancer-related diseases continue to accept Libyans, those dealing with other illnesses have stopped doing so until health bills are settled, says Dr Jerbi.
In December, the Libyan Ministry of Health agreed to cooperate with its counterpart in Tunisia to pay the debts owed by Libya. Based on the agreement, Libyan authorities committed to pay 50 million Tunisian dinars to Tunisian clinics.