Iran, a destination for Islamic medical tourists

Thanks to its geographical position, the conditions in neighbouring countries, economically reasonable prices and advanced medical facilities, Iran is gradually becoming a destination for Islamic and regional medical tourists.Hospitals in Iranian cities offer medical and health care services for foreign medical tourists, and for the Iranians who go to large cities from those parts of the country that lack such services.

Geographical closeness and cultural and religious similarities have turned Iran into one of the best and most economically reasonable destinations for the Islamic world and regional countries for health tourism.

Local market leader Jordan is struggling to cope with the healthcare needs of over a million Syrian refugees, and war casualties, plus a negative image from the arrival of US troops and cross –border problems with Syria. If it can avoid being dragged by other countries into war, then Iran has a very high potential for expansion and further development of this type of health tourism.

The depiction of Iran as a backward nation in other countries is very misleading as it has a highly educated workforce and is a local leader in scientific and health development. Iran is one of the top five countries in the world in biotech and nine out of 15 high usage biotech molecules are produced in Iran.

So Iran has a great opportunity to attract medical tourists of Islamic and regional countries. The existence of mineral fountains in many parts of the country, targets one market. Other markets include fertility treatment, stem cell treatment, dialysis, heart surgery, cosmetic surgery, and eye surgery. It also produces unique medicines such as the anti-AIDS drug IMOD, and other high-tech drugs.

The foreign medical tourists can be sub-divided in two groups. The first group is those who travel from advanced countries to other parts of the world seeking high-level medical service at considerably lower prices.

The other type of medical tourists are those who come from less advanced and less developed countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan where the medical services are not satisfactory and Iran can offer them greater health services at very reasonable prices.
30,000 medical tourists enter Iran annually, and economic surveys show that each medical tourist brings three times as much hard currency to the country than regular tourists. There are also some 200,000 health, wellness and spa tourists.

Dr. Hassan Rushki of the Iranian Health Ministry’s Health Tourism Committee explains, “Each foreign medical tourist brings to our country an average 4 to 6 thousand US dollars. If the infrastructure for health tourism were improved, we would gain a substantial amount of hard currency from this industry, which is why we need to develop medical tourism.

Unfortunately, despite the high profitability and the huge potential of Iran for attracting health tourists, health tourism has still not been recognized as a national industry in our country. Medical services in Iran are comparable with those offered in advanced countries. We must develop and make further investments in our tourism industry.”

The Health Tourism Committee sees the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq – all with poor healthcare services – as achievable target markets. People from Pakistan are often not prepared to go to historic archrival India. People from Afghanistan or Iraq are increasingly reluctant to go to places with strong US connections such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Dr. Hassan Rushki adds, “China highlights their acupuncture medical treatment and Thailand highlights its massage therapy sessions – each attracting a huge number of tourists to their countries. Iran has unused capacities in similar fields, and rare medicines rarely found elsewhere, which should be taken full advantage of.”

The country accepts that in order to expand their health tourism industry- renovation of hospitals, standardized health services and improving the quality of health are services are essential and urgent.

Iran has already produced rules and regulations for tourist health care service centres so that hospitals and clinics that want to offer health tourism services to foreign citizens need to acquire licenses from both the Ministry of Health and Iranian Tourism Organization.

Offering health service training to employees of tourism agencies and opening international patients’ wards at the hospitals are among the other already adopted measures by the Health, Remedy and Medical Training Ministry.