Healthy Tourism

Atifuddin Khan
Filed on March 23, 2021

The country's national medical tourism sector is on the rise

According to a study the global medical tourism market is expected to reach $54 billion dollars in 2020. Just for a perspective of what this number represents, that's almost a $10 billion increase from the year before. This is also more than the individual GDPs of more than 100 countries in the world!

With a growing, educated human resource, a lot of countries are working towards claiming their own piece of the medical tourism pie. And of course, Pakistan is one of those growing economies.

Medical tourism, in contrast with the actual use of the word tourism, is an activity in which an individual travels to a place for the express purpose of getting medical treatment. Travelling to a country on the basis of a particular healthcare interest is nothing new. It's been in practice since humans went out in search of better treatment for an ailment.

In Pakistan, this industry is in its infancy but has a high potential to grow. We got in touch with Dr Tipu Sultan, a renowned senior medical practitioner with decades of experience running his hospital and serving in Pakistan's public medical health services. We asked him how the country can do better in this area.

"Pakistan has high potential. Of course, like all other forms of tourism, the security issues over the last decade really put a dent in all the efforts. But now that the situation has improved, we see non-Pakistanis coming to the country for medical treatment."

In recent years, medical tourism has witnessed a boom for developing countries. The reason is often attributed to lower costs, medical services unavailable or non-licensed in the home country. Drug approvals and availability of medicine vary from country to country and in the developing countries, the regulatory authorities' eased approach helps in the effort.

In 2012, it is estimated that 55,000 people from the UK went abroad to seek medical treatment. 70 per cent of these visited nations like Pakistan. In fact, a sizable expat community now comes to the country for medical treatment. It is all part of the annual vacation plan; come home to meet the relatives, and have a dental treatment, heart surgery or cosmetic procedure done in the process.

Pakistan's expat community is one with little or no medical coverage at all. And that helps the cause.

Dr Sultan said, "We have always had the facilities and the manpower to manage this trade. We have world-class hospitals in the major cities and surgeons for the procedure. CT Scans and MRI reporting is also outsourced here by some hospitals in America. Dental work has of late become a favourite. In fact, Pakistan is also now a destination for students who want to get their MBBS degrees. The cost of the course is the main reason. If we develop this further then we have to value add the options."

It is estimated that in vitro fertilisation operation in the US can cost as much as $8,100, whereas in Pakistan the same operation can be done for $2,000. That is significant cost savings for anyone who is coming to Pakistan for a vacation.

According to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, Pakistan produces around 30,000 physicians every year out of more than 50 medical schools. Pakistan is the obvious medical destination for the Afghan diaspora. As Dr Tipu points out, if we are to add to this then we have to think like tourist operators.

"If we are to increase this number, especially target patients from developed countries, then we have to create tourist packages. Get a week's off for rest and recreation as well as a medical procedure. Trip to the historical sites, the snow-capped mountains of the North or the shores of the Arabian Sea. This is also an opportunity to develop our tourist industry. We have seen this model of business implemented successfully in other countries of the region.

"Pakistan's medical HR is world-renowned. Sadly, we've seen many doctors leave these shores for greener pastures. Medical tourism is also another way of regaining our brain drain. This will help the country in the long run."



Dr S Akmal Sultan

An orthopaedic and spine surgeon

Dr Akmal is setting up a state-of-the-art trauma and orthopaedic services centre in the locality of Malir, barely five minutes driving distance from Karachi's international airport.

"Quality medical facilities are available in Karachi but are some distance away from the airport. For a foreigner, alien to our culture, it is at times discerning to take this travel. Realising the potential of health tourism we have set up this facility near the international airport. Boarding and lodging are easily available for the visitor who can fly in one flight for a procedure and leave by the next without having to go through the traffic congestion. We are offering advance sports injury treatments and joint replacement services. Plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery facilities are also available catering to the treatment of the full range of trauma. We have invested in infrastructure and have also brought on board expert national visiting faculty," said Dr Akmal.


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