Why Bangladeshis travel overseas

passenger In the Malaysia airport

The healthcare system in Bangladesh has undergone significant developments in recent years, and yet thousands of Bangladeshi patients still travel abroad in search of medical treatment. What is driving this choice, asks medical travel analyst Ian Youngman.

From the implementation of new technologies and equipment, to the training and development of medical professionals, Bangladesh has made major strides in enhancing the quality of care provided to patients in both public and private hospitals. The government and private sector have also been working together to improve the healthcare system and make it more accessible to the population.

This means that most of the treatments that many patients go outside the country to have are also now available in Bangladesh. Hospitals are providing cancer treatment, brain surgery, bone marrow transfer, kidney transplants, and burns treatments, often to international standards. Praava Health, a network of family health centres, claims to be at the forefront of this movement of providing international standard healthcare facilities in Bangladesh. The centres also offer overseas video consultations with foreign doctors for second opinions, reducing the added time and expense patients incur by travelling abroad.

Why do locals still choose foreign rather than local healthcare facilities?

The reasons for this range from a lack of trust in the local healthcare system, to a desire for more advanced medical facilities in foreign hospitals.  The lack of trust in local healthcare is influenced by unprofessional behaviour from healthcare professionals, misdiagnosis, lack of clear explanations of health conditions, and the tendency of doctors to recommend unnecessary tests and drugs. These will all play a key role in patients going abroad for treatment.

Over half of all medical tourists in India are from Bangladesh.  Data from India’s tourism ministry indicates that the number of Bangladeshi patients seeking medical treatment in India has risen by 83% in the last three years. Many other Bangladeshi patients also travel to Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Many patients feel that the cost of medical treatment in Bangladesh is higher compared to other countries and, as a result, travel to India for its relatively affordable, high quality facilities.

Healthcare system still faces challenges

Despite the progress made in the healthcare system of Bangladesh, the medical industry still faces significant challenges, particularly in terms of resources. One of the biggest issues is a shortage of medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses. This leads to overworked doctors and nurses, especially in public hospitals, which can circle back to unprofessional behaviour and a lack of trust from patients.

The public and private sectors also need to offer advanced treatments such as liver and heart transplants, put an increased focus on developing and integrating technology-based healthcare facilities in the country, and improve systems and healthcare record.  The Bangladesh Accreditation Board (BAB) also needs wider influence on regulations and accreditations to different diagnostic centres and hospitals, and should monitor them on a regular basis.

Medical travel facilitation encourages travel

It is not just the cost and trust issues that are hurting the local healthcare system. The rise of medical tourism has also played a role in this problem.

Medical travel agencies have grown in Bangladesh, offering patients and their families a fully-managed service, from booking appointments with doctors, to hotel rooms.

For patients with non-life-threatening conditions, the opportunity to combine treatment with travel also seen as attractive.

Bangladesh health needs better PR

A significant factor that contributes to patients seeking medical treatment abroad is a lack of knowledge about the country’s improving healthcare facilities. Many patients are not aware of the advancements and improvements made in the healthcare system in Bangladesh and the availability of quality medical care within the country. This lack of information leads them to believe that the best option for medical treatment is abroad. It is important for the government and private sector to increase awareness and educate the public about the country’s healthcare facilities and services to reduce the need for medical tourism.