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Healthcare next frontier for Indian companies in Africa

The healthcare sector could be the next frontier for Indian companies keen on investing in Africa after manufacturing and telecom, if a recent trend is anything to by.

Two Indian medicare companies - Mumbai-based Metropolis Health Care (MHC) and Hyderabad-based Care Institute Medical Services (CIMS) - have recently made forays into the continent seen by many as virgin in terms of investment opportunities and with a huge potential to support a wide range of businesses.

While MHC has been in Africa since 2008 operating a number of diagnostic laboratories in South Africa, the firm last month moved to Kenya in east Africa opening two laboratories in the capital Nairobi, with plans to set up more.

The company has already spent $ 500,000 on the now operational Nairobi labs, with another US$5 million set aside for setting up another five in major towns in the country, according to CEO Ameera Shah.

The Kenyan labs will have capacity to conduct more than 4,500 pathological tests in both infectious and non-communicable diseases, both a growing menace on the continent.

Kenya, Shah told the media in Nairobi recently will act as an entry point to rest of east Africa a region with a combined population of more than 200million people, cutting patients the cost of travelling to India and South Africa for advanced medical tests, or having samples sent to the countries for analysis.

On the other hand, CIMS is planning to set up an out-patient unit in Nairobi in near future to cater to patients who have to travel to India to access top quality but affordable medicare services.

It is partnering with Kenyan investors and doctors to put the out-patient unit that will cater for a multiplicity of conditions, including those presented by changing lifestyles in Africa - mainly cancers and heart ailments.

The hospital has been running advertisements in the Kenyan media asking African travelling to India to visit their facilities for free medical check-ups or take patients for treatment, including cancer and various surgeries, at charges ranging from $195-$5,000.

The facility, boasting of world class specialists and facilities, however, has not indicated when it is opening the Nairobi out-patient centre, but with an increasingly high number of Africans having to travel to India for major medical operations the facility could be up by the end of the year.

India boasts some of the most advanced health care systems in the developing world with thousands of Africans traveling to the country for treatment each year, many of them seeking specialised help for kidney, heart and liver diseases, among others.

The country's pharmaceutical industry also dominates drug imports by African governments and NGOs, thanks to quality but low cost medicines made by Indian companies.

Leading Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla is developing and testing a combination paedriatic HIV drug for children infected with the disease in a multi-million dollar enterprise and in partnership with the Swiss based NGO, Drugs for Neglected Tropical Diseases Initiative (DNDI).

Indian telecom major Bharti Airtel has stamped its presence in over 10 African countries, providing mobile communication services to over 100 million people.