The dark horse of medical tourism?

Asian countries confident they are leading medical tourism destination should not get complacent. The darkest horse in medical tourism is not yet ready to take their place, but as manufacturing companies found, this country absorbs information on rivals and then offers a cheaper alternative.

Co-operation agreements with Taiwan, and encouraging Korean cosmetic surgeries, Indian and Singapore hospitals and other medical experts to set up in their country, are just the tip of the iceberg. Rivals may question the standard of healthcare in China, but although health provision in rural areas and for the poor is inadequate, the standard and price for the emerging middle class and new rich, is different.

Raffles Medical Group (RMG) has opened a new medical center in Shanghai. Raffles Medical – Shanghai is mainly targeting expatriates, corporate customers and high net worth mainland Chinese, for health screening, general medical and dental treatment. Yong Yih Ming of Raffles Medical – Shanghai, says,” China’s economic growth has cultivated a pool of Chinese who can afford high-quality medical care of international standards.” Dr. Ang Peng Tiam, of Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) has obtained a practising license with Shanghai’s St Michael Hospital. PCC is setting up a satellite clinic within St Michael Hospital,

Boai Medical Group, China’s largest private medical organisation, has begun offering services to medical tourists in both modern medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Dr. Carlos Che at Modern Hospital Guangzhou comments. ” What we offer is a treatment programme that provides the best of both philosophies of care, as we have a wealth of clinical evidence that shows that TCM can enhance western medicine. We are very much looking forward to bringing the benefits of this approach to patients in the Gulf region.” The hospital is only one of the group’s 56 hospitals and clinics in China. It has bilingual translators to help patients from different countries.

Boai Group has appointed medical tourism consultancy ExHealth, to assist it with improving international patient practices and to identify new opportunities, as well as providing support on ethical, cultural and legal issues. The group sees opportunities to attract Gulf residents, particularly from the UAE, and wants to take business away from Thailand and Malaysia, as treatment in China would cost a quarter of what it would cost in Dubai, or two-thirds of the cost in Thailand.

But China’s entry into medical tourism has another side. Despite official attempts to limit the organ transplant trade, Malaysians are still going to China for transplants. According to a report by the Malaysian Dialysis and Transplant Registry, some 60% of Malaysians have gone overseas for transplants in the past nine years (2000-2009), with 856 seeking treatment in China alone. World Health Organisation (WHO) adviser Dr Francis Delmonico, at a forum on organ trafficking and transplant tourism warned Malaysians not go to China, “”We do not know where they get the organs. But in most cases, the organs are taken from executed prisoners. People need to know that those who went abroad for organ transplants have become ill on returning home. Some Malaysians who went abroad for organ transplants returned home with diseases including TB, hepatitis and HIV.” The forum said that 60,000 transplants are taking place worldwide each year, and one in 10 are still done illegally-mainly in China, Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Egypt.