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`Set up infrastructure for medical tourism'

By Our Special Correspondent

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM DEC. 11. The Tourism and Fisheries Minister, K.V. Thomas, has called for adequate support infrastructure such as better air connectivity and insurance to foster medical tourism in the country.

In his address to the FICCI conference in Chennai today, a copy of which was released to the press here, Mr. Thomas said demand for medical tourism was on the rise owing to the low cost of treatment in the country. However, there was urgent need for airline companies to offer special in-flight facilities for patients, while insurance companies should make systems and procedures simple. There was also the need to device quality checks to ensure that only environments with a particular combination of talent and infrastructure handled medical tourism.

He said Kerala had devised a classification system for treatment centres and ensured that trade as well as tourists were aware of the procedures. Kerala, which had already established a name by taking Ayurveda to the centre stage of medical tourism, proposed to turn to new areas by focussing on facilities available at many of its prestigious institutions such as the Regional Cancer Centre, Sri Chitra Institute of Medical Science and Technology, Kerala Institute of Medical Science, Amritha Institute of Medical Science and the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala, which could play a major role.

He said Indian doctors and nurses were respected across the globe. In addition to being highly qualified, they were respected for their vast experience. An Indian doctor examines 50 patients a day, while his counterpart abroad examines only five, he said. The rapid growth of world-class hospitals that constantly keep upgrading technologies were also a major reassurance to the patients. In addition to talent and technology, India also ensured speed. Across the U.K. and Europe, patients waited for months to get an appointment. And more importantly, patients in the U.K. and the U.S. cannot use their insurance for non-critical treatment like knee replacement and cosmetic surgery, making cost a big consideration, he observed.

"Whichever way you look at it, costs were amazingly low in India. A heart bypass surgery that costs 5,000 pounds in the U.K. would cost only 500 pounds in India. An in-vitro fertilisation cycle that costs $6,000 in the U.S. would cost only $1,200 in India. A hip replacement surgery may cost 6,600 pounds in the U.K., but would cost 600 pounds in India," he said.

Though the main demand for medical tourism comes from the vast population of non-resident Indians, foreign citizens were increasingly turning to India.

According to figures, the Apollo Hospitals in India had treated over 60,000 foreign nationals from 55 countries during the last five years, he said. Kerala has been a pioneer in medical tourism through Ayurveda.

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