Patients travel in search of healthcare

Well-off Myanmar citizens with health concerns are travelling to a wide range of mainly Asian countries for first-rate healthcare at relatively low cost.

A major destination is Thailand, which in 2007 received 36,257 Myanmar patients for medical treatment out of a total of 75,183 Myanmar travellers. Thai statistics show that 1.4 million foreigners entered Thailand for medical treatment in 2007, and the number in 2008 is expected to have risen to 1.69 million. There were 100,773 patients from ASEAN countries, of whom the largest group came from Myanmar (36 percent), followed by a quarter from Cambodia.

Thailand is not the only destination for healthcare. Some wealthy Myanmar citizens go as far as Germany for medical treatment. But the number of visitors going to Thailand for healthcare has increased because of the quality of the medical service, value for money and location.

SM Tours is a Myanmar travel agency and a local representative of Thailand’s Phyathai Hospitals Group. Managing director U Maung Maung Swe said Myanmar patients had been seeking medical treatment in Singapore and Malaysia since 1990. Thailand has been rapidly expanding in popularity as a destination for medical treatment since 2000.

“Most Myanmar patients go to hospitals in Thailand for a medical check-up or an operation. Our company arranges the medical documentation for patients to Phyathai hospitals, arranges appointments and advises patients,” he said.

Vertex, another agency, is an authorised agent for AMRI Hospitals in Kolkata, India. U Aung Thurein, the managing director, said Myanmar travellers started going to India for health treatment five years ago, mostly for liver ailments or kidney transplants.

“Myanmar patients chose India because the country has advanced information technology with good medical services, weather and food are similar to Myanmar, and the costs are 40 to 50 percent lower than in Singapore.”

Dr Su Naing from the Myanmar office of ParkwayHealth points out that cost and value are not the same as Singapore is considered good value as a medical destination for Myanmar patients. He said: “Hospitals in Singapore have advanced technology with qualified doctors and good facilities, but the costs are 50 percent higher than in Thailand.”

ParkwayHealth Information Centre (PHIC) opened in August last year as an information centre for three hospitals – Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles and East Shore Hospital- all part of Parkway in Singapore.

Gleneagles Hospital has successfully operated on ten Myanmar citizens for liver transplants in its Asia Centre for liver disease and transplants. It attracts 10 to 15 patients a month from Myanmar for liver disease related treatments. Most Myanmar patients who go to Mount Elizabeth Hospital are cancer patients, with 15 to 20 patients from Myanmar a month. As yet there have been no Myanmar patients at East Shore.

PHIC gives medical advice to patients who want to receive health treatment at any of those three hospitals, and helps them with travel arrangements.