By Flavia Nassaka
New strategy focuses on offering specialised care to cut referrals abroad
Imelda Nakyonyi, 50 has since 2004 been receiving treatment from the International Hospital Kampala (IHK), a facility owned by the International Medical Group (IMG). Before, she had been receiving treatment from a public health facility but was pushed away by the queuing which could be measured in days. Then, IHK was the only candidate that could satisfy her health care needs.
Being diagnosed with a chronic heart problem, Nakyonyi visits the hospital at least once every month. She has gotten so familiar with the hospital that she notices any slight change at the 15-year old facility.
She tells The Independent: “A lot has changed here. For the last one year each time I come here I notice new faces in the laboratories and the wards. Procedure has changed too for instance upon doing a scan one has to wait and go with their results unlike before when results were delivered to the patient later in the ward”.
These are some minor changes that Nakyonyi has noticed. But there’s a bigger change. The IHK founder, Dr. Ian Clarke, recently sold majority shares in the largest private healthcare group to a healthcare company based in Mauritius – Ciel HealthCare Africa.
Clarke explained details of the deal.
“Ciel has acquired majority shares in this company and I will no longer be involved in the day-to-day running of the hospital,” he said.
Apart from IHK, IMG comprises of IMG Pharmaceuticals, International Diagnostic Centre (IDC), International Medical Foundation (IMF), International Health Sciences University (IHSU), IAA HealthCare and International Medical Centre (IMC).
The Ciel Group, meanwhile, is a large multi-million dollar company listed in Mauritius with interests in banking, textiles, agribusiness, and healthcare. They have the majority stake in a hospital in Mauritius and in 2013 they set out to expand their footprint to Africa. In East Africa, IHK will be their flagship.
Speaking to The Independent, Clarke who could not reveal the percentage he retained in the facilities said he remains the chairman of the group though the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has been taken over by Alex Alexander who doubles as Ciel Africa’s Managing Director. Clarke has until recently been holding 60% of the shares whereas Dutch and Mauritius investors holding 5% and 35% shares respectively.
Will this tackle medical tourism?
When asked why he reached the decision, Clarke said his vision for IHK has always been to develop it to a tertiary care hospital so that it can compete with the best hospitals in Nairobi and other places where Ugandans are usually referred for specialised treatment.
“We are doing well in certain specialties such as Intensive Care Unit, neonatology and certain theatre specialties, but in order to drive forward in all specialties requires considerable investment which can be afforded by a large company. Good enough we share principles and vision with the company,” he explains.
According to him, Ciel’s profile will safeguard IHK for the future as they wish to develop it into a highly specialised tertiary care regional referral hospital with the expertise from an international company.
Could this end the never ending debate about the billions spent when Ugandans opt for treatment abroad?
Dr. Asuman Lukwago, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health estimates that more than US$70 million is spent annually on referrals abroad by both private patients and public servants. Apart from those who go abroad because of preference and not dire necessity, procedures mostly referred for specialised care include heart operations, cancers, organ transplants and diseases that arise with old age – complications which could be handled if Uganda invested in developing specialised medical infrastructure. In 2007, IHK performed its first successful open-heart surgery which was also the first in Uganda’s medical history.
Lukwago and Dr. Sarah Byakika, the commissioner Health Services in charge of planning at the Health Ministry received the news of Clarke’s idea with the smile. They are certain this will have a positive impact on the health sector.
“I know services at IHK will not be affordable to some Ugandans since specialised procedures are usually expensive but what I am sure about it will be cheaper than having to travel all the way to foreign countries. Many unnecessary costs will be cut,” said Lukwago.
Byakika says this will supplement government efforts since they are now investing in developing modern specialised medical infrastructure for cancer and cardiovascular disease treatment adding that even those who seek private health services may benefit as high-end services will be brought closer to them.
She says though her ministry may not directly control or dictate what happens in the private sector, they encourage more companies to come in, especially now that Uganda is pushing for health insurance whereby everyone will have access to quality healthcare. She, however, says the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Council should always be keen on private providers to ensure that consumers are not exploited and professional code of conduct is respected by facilities.
Currently, IHK which was first hosted in leased premises in Old Kampala before relocating to Namuwongo handles between 300 and 500 outpatients per day whereas the In-patient beds are 100. The IMG group generally employs about 600 employees at its different facilities across the country where they have a niche in providing health insurance services to corporate companies and individuals. For now according to Brenda Naluyima, IMG’s Communications Manager, they have embarked on major renovation works starting with putting in place a state of the art pediatric rehabilitation center at IHK which is expected to be finished soon. The facility along with its sister institutions are valued at approximately US$15 million.