In Tunis, Bintou Yunoussa pins her hopes on fertility treatments at a local clinic, joining over two million international visitors flocking to Tunisia annually for medical interventions. Despite economic challenges and governmental debt, the medical tourism sector flourishes, with authorities eyeing further expansion. Yunoussa, hailing from Niger, opted for a private clinic in Tunis following unsuccessful attempts to conceive, influenced by her sister-in-law’s success story of twins conceived through insemination in Tunisia.
Nadia Fenina, a health ministry representative, highlights Tunisia’s specialised private clinics and skilled medical professionals as pivotal in attracting medical tourists. She underscores the integral role of medical tourism in the broader tourism sector, which accounts for nine percent of Tunisia’s GDP. Although Tunisia’s economy faces sluggish growth, medical tourism thrives, contributing approximately 3.5 billion dinars ($1.1 billion) annually, or half of the country’s total tourism revenue last year.
Fenina emphasises the symbiotic relationship between the medical and general tourism sectors, noting that foreign patients often explore Tunisia beyond medical treatments. Dr. Fethi Zhiwa reports that the Tunis clinic welcomed 450 in vitro fertilisation patients in the past year, primarily from sub-Saharan Africa and other North African nations, as well as Western countries enticed by competitive rates and renowned fertility specialists.
Cosmetic surgery lures a significant portion of European medical tourists, representing 15 percent of foreign treatments in Tunisia, according to Fenina. Mohamed, a Libyan patient, commends Tunisian cardiologists for making biannual visits for post-operative care while relishing leisure time in Tabarka.
Despite rising anti-migrant sentiments, Yunoussa expresses feeling welcomed in Tunisia, echoing sentiments shared by other medical tourists. Fenina highlights Tunisia’s tourism potential, advocating for improved infrastructure, including direct flights and streamlined visa procedures, to bolster the industry. The health ministry aims to enhance coordination among stakeholders and develop facilities catering to elderly European visitors, signalling Tunisia’s commitment to sustaining its thriving medical tourism sector amidst broader socio-political challenges.