Iran is considering making it easier for Afghan nationals who are willing to travel to the country for medical treatment. Approximately 62,000 Afghans visited in the year ended 19 March 2020, and Afghanistan is seen by Iran as both an important source market for health and medical health tourism.
Of 125,000 medical tourists who arrived in the country in 1398 [the Iranian calendar year ended on 19 March 2020] Afghan nationals constituted 48.8% of medical tourists according to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts. This is roughly 62,000.
Despite, or perhaps encouraged by, these large figures, the country is seeking to attract more Afghan medical tourists, by removing more obstacles to travel. Most medical tourism for Afghan nationals is in the hands of intermediaries and brokers and there are many restrictions and barriers to visa issuance by Iran. Some problems can be solved by Iran, but Afghan authorities also make it difficult for Afghans to go to Iran.
Most Afghan medical tourists are inpatients and not outpatients. They seek gynaecology, obstetrics and infertility, eye, heart, and orthopaedic surgery. Cultural commonalities that exist between the two nations and quality medical services in Iran are pivotal drivers for attracting Afghan people. Iran fits Afghanistan’s medical tourists much better than India.
The Islamic Republic has set its goals to exceed its yearly medical and health travellers to around 2 million in [calendar year] 1404 (March 2025-March 2026).
To boost tourism the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts, in close collaboration with the health ministry, has developed protocols comprising practical guidelines and instructions to improve health standards in hotels, guesthouses, eco-lodge units, tourist destinations, transport facilities, recreational centres, and restaurants.
The Smart Travel Protocol (Travel + Health)’ has already been effective in recovering and stimulating domestic tourism and the Ministry expects it to have the same effect on international tourism. Medical tourism is one of the pillars of the travel industry in Iran.
Medical tourism brought Iran US$1.2 billion in 2018 based on official statistics, hosting patients from the Persian Gulf states, Iraq and Syria as well as Iranian expatriates residing in Canada and Germany, plus Afghans.
The first medical tourism centre in Urmia, a north-western Azarbaijan province, is under construction. Being built by private investors, the centre will include sports facilities, rehabilitation, neuropsychology clinics, and accommodation.
By the end of 2019, Iran’s Ministry of Health had granted licenses to 22 medical tourism agencies.