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Published Date: Aug 24, 2016

Pakistan can earn foreign exchange by improving medical tourism

During the current year, 1.3 million United States citizens will travel out of the country for medical treatment. This is also the case for other developed countries, due to costly medical treatment.
According to a Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) representative, Pakistan can take advantage of the situation and earn foreign exchange by improving medical tourism.
Speaking at a ‘Stakeholder Consultation on Regional Cooperation in Health Services’ organised by the institute, SDPI Deputy Executive Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed said patients travel through formal and informal channels to get treatment at cheaper rates.
Speakers at consultation call for regional cooperation on medical issues
He said a number of patients visit India, Thailand, Singapore and other Asian countries due to cheaper treatment. A heart bypass that costs $130,000 in the US can be done in India for $7,000.
“India is getting 50pc of patients from Afghanistan, 30pc from Bangladesh and 20pc from other South Asian countries. But exact data about trade in the health sector is missing, because of the unavailability of records about visas given for health services,” he said.
“There are also issues in the transaction of money from the banking sector or legal channels. There is a lack of institutional links between hospitals in different countries which needs to be improved,” Dr Ahmed added.
He said a trade policy should be made, and the commerce ministry could play role in providing and assuring health services.
“Bank transactions should be ensured for the treatment of patients from one country to other country. A public-private healthcare partnership should also be introduced. The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) should also be taken on board,” he said.
Ministry of Commerce Additional Secretary Asad Hayauddin said the medical tourism industry was worth $100 billion, and Pakistan could get a share of that.
“Those who come for treatment should get medical visas. Canada has a law that a person who gets a tourist visa has to walk while entering the country instead of using a wheelchair or stretcher,” he added.
Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal said South Asia was the most densely populated part of the world, with 1.6 billion people – one fifth of the world’s population – residing in the region.
“Social health indicators are the main scale for determining the poverty level, but in the region social health indicators are very bad. Nowadays the mobility of people and the dependency of one country on another country are increasing, so no country can live as an island,” he said.
“We also have to provide health facilities to people of the region. We have started a project for early childhood development because the development of a child’s brain completes in 1,000 days and after that he mostly grows physically. In this region, a large number of children are missed during vaccination campaigns,” he added.
Mr Iqbal added that non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, were also a major cause of death, while communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, were also a threat.
Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said joint efforts and research were required in the region.
Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Vice Chancellor said residents of the region have similar genetic structure and behaviour – such as diet and exercise. He said therefore, they should make collective efforts to address issues.
“Pakistani hospitals have already been collaborating with Indian hospitals. We receive patients for bone marrow transplants from India. Pakistan and India should issue health alerts together, because there is just a half an hour drive between Lahore and Amritsar. A virus can travel within minutes from one side of the border to the other,” he said.
He said the prime minister has approved the formation of a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Medicos Group, and funding had been arranged.