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India lures medical tourists
Nineteen-year-old Asma (name changed) from Jordan needed a liver transplant. But doctors in Germany, Turkey and Egypt said she was too sick to get a transplant. Distraught and disappointed, her father, who runs a movers and packers business in Dubai, came to Delhi with her reports. He showed them to Dr Vinay Kumaran, liver transplant surgeon in Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, who said that a transplant would be possible.
It was important, though, to first examine Asma and ascertain if she was fit for the surgery. Since she was too sick to travel, the surgeon made an exception and flew to Jordan to check on her. "Normally we don't go over, but we made an exception in this case as we felt the young girl needed a chance. We got her over and her father gave the right lobe of his liver. The transplant was done nine months ago. Both she and her father are doing very well after the surgery, " says Kumaran.
Foreign citizens seeking treatment in India is not new. It has been happening for more than a decade. But what's new is how Indian hospitals, in order to spread their net wider and woo their patients more, are frequently flying their staff to countries like the UAE, Oman, Iraq, Qatar, Nigeria, Congo, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia.
"Doctors from many hospitals in India visit health centres in developing countries to deliver lectures, meet people and even do some simple procedures. The more difficult cases are referred to their respective hospitals in India, " explains Dr Kapil Kochhar, senior consultant in laparoscopic and bariatric surgery in Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon. Kochhar himself has made several visits to Kabul from where the hospital gets a steady stream of patients.
The hospitals see these visits to other countries as part of their marketing efforts. Many of the hospitals even give cuts to doctors in those countries for every case referred to them. Medical travel companies based out of those countries, or even based here, also act as conduits. "Some governments, and even NGOs, in those countries send patients to recognised hospitals in India for treatment. There are hospitals in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa which act as marketing outposts and facilitation centres that help with peripheral services like visa, travel and stay, " explains Hari S Boolchandani, head of international patient services division, Max Healthcare.
Most big hospitals in the medical tourism business are looking for about 40 per cent occupancy by foreign patients as domestic medical tourism is shrinking with bigger and better health facilities being set up in smaller towns. And this share is bound to go up as hospital groups lure patients with sophisticated marketing tricks in hitherto unexplored countries.
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