Medical tourism is waste of resources if poor not treated: Health Secretary

March 30th, 2008 - 11:07 am ICT by admin  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Medical tourism might be the new buzzword for the burgeoning healthcare industry in India but one of the country’s top health officials calls it a “waste of resources” if the money earned by private hospitals is not used to treat the poor. “I am not very keen on medical tourism. It’s a wastage of resources that I think should be utilised to better the health condition of our own people,” Health Secretary Naresh Dayal told IANS on the sidelines of an event organised by the Public Health Foundation of India.

“We are a developing country. There are millions of people who need better healthcare facilities. Treating foreigners and leaving our own people suffering is not a nice proposition,” he said.

According to Dayal, if private hospitals are earning good revenue by treating foreign patients, they should utilise the money to make provisions for poor patients.

“I am not against their earning revenue but they should also make provisions to treat poor patients for free. This could go a long way in improving people’s health and making our country stronger,” he said.

Dayal said private players should willingly come forward to take up health projects for underprivileged people. “The government is trying hard but it needs private support to improve the country’s healthcare sector,” he added.

The health secretary, however, praised the skill and efficiency of Indian doctors and infrastructure in private hospitals.

According to the tourism ministry, India’s medical tourism market is growing and is expected to become a $2 billion a year business opportunity by 2012.

The ministry has already said that an estimated 150,000 foreign patients came to India for medical treatment in 2004 and since then the number has been growing by nearly 20 percent per year.

Industry experts say patients from the United States, Britain, Canada, Gulf countries and South Asia are flocking to Indian super specialty hospitals to avail themselves of treatment.

They mainly come for heart surgery, kidney transplant, knee replacement, cancer treatment, obesity reduction operations and plastic surgery.

“India is providing world class health facilities to patients at one fifth of the cost they will incur if they go for similar treatment elsewhere,” said Anas Wajad, head of marketing and sales at Artemis Health Institute (AHI) in Gurgaon.

Owned by the Apollo Tyres group, this 260-bed super specialty hospital gets around 15 foreign patients every month.

“Though we are less than one year old in the healthcare industry, the patient flow from outside is quite good,” Wajad said.

Dayal said that though medical tourism is bringing a good name to India’s healthcare industry, yet “we should not forget that people are still dying due to lack of treatment and some of our people are not availing themselves of medical care just because of the financial constraint”.

“I am in favour of treating our own people first,” the secretary said.

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