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India-bound medical tourists cautioned

india Updated: Aug 04, 2007 04:14 IST
Barney Henderson
Barney Henderson
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

More than two lakh foreigners visited India for treatment last year. But not everybody is pleased.

Medical organisations in the UK and the US have cautioned their citizens against this growing trend of health tourism to countries like India, Malaysia and Thailand. Long flights, they have said, can cause more harm than good to a patient.

<b1>If you heed the UK Department of Health’s advice, for instance, you would not look at any country that takes more than a three-hour flight to reach for those bypass and hip surgeries, breast implants and liposuctions.

Certain Asian countries have started offering world-class treatment far cheaper than the West, seriously challenging the old-world notion of going to the ‘friendly neighbourhood doctor’.

A study by the Confederation of Indian Industry and McKinsey estimates that the industry will be Rs 100 billion in India by 2012. With its wealth of talented doctors, India’s healthcare industry may soon rival its software sector.

But with growth has come resistance. “Flying can place a great deal of stress on the body and patients travelling to distant nations for medical attention should check their fitness to fly and factor in appropriate recuperation time before flying home,” a British Medical Association spokesperson told HT.

The US Department of Health raised concerns that seeking treatment abroad can add to health risks. “There are destination-associated risks to medical tourists like heat-related illnesses or malaria,” said Christie Reed of the Center for Disease Control. “This may be complicated if a patient travels in ill health.”

The British National Health Service did consider a tie-up with Wockhardt in 2004. However, concerns over the safety of patients flying to India, combined with falling waiting times for operations in the UK, caused them to cancel the plan.

“We send patients to European countries with a maximum flight time of three hours but not beyond that,” a UK Department of Health spokesperson said.

The Indian Healthcare Federation (IHF) has reacted saying that patients are coming here because they are not being given appropriate healthcare in their own countries.

“Patients are not coming here because they are enamoured by India’s tigers,” said IHF President Dr Naresh Trehan. “They are here to seek the best healthcare treatment they can afford.”