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TRAVEL FOR CURE

The number of medical tourists from Bangladesh is on the rise. What does that mean for our health care industry?

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Bangladesh’s average life expectancy right now is about 73 years. We have come a long way as a country to improve the aggregate quality of life; our life expectancy has nearly doubled from the time of our independence. Increased affordability has made us more health-conscious, and the general population is more aware of the risks that come from ignoring a medical emergency. Unfortunately, our healthcare sector has not kept up with economic development. According to WHO, there are an estimated 3.05 physicians and 1.07 nurses per 10,000 people. Therefore, there is a severe shortage in the number of medical professionals, let alone quality. The deficit has put too much pressure on the current medical structure; patients complain about doctors not giving enough time for proper diagnosis. It has also affected the customer service of hospitals that treat patients poorly; they do not even have time to reflect on their behavior and re-evaluate their practices. Concurrently, the sector is also plagued by mismanagement and corruption, which resulted in deaths and misdiagnosis.
This has given rise to the number of medical tourists from Bangladesh. As Bangladeshis are becoming wealthier, more and more people are choosing to go abroad for complicated treatments like cancer and heart surgery. wealthier Bangladeshis are now going abroad for diagnosis and checkups. In my opinion, medical tourism is a boon for our country. Our current healthcare will need time and planning to reach maximum efficiency, medical services abroad are providing healthcare for those who do not have such a long time. Disease and health complications will not wait for anyone to fix their healthcare system before becoming fatal. Medical tourism is saving precious lives and will continue to do so in the future.
I have selected three popular medical tourism destinations that are frequented by Bangladeshis. They are Thailand, India, and Singapore. Each destination appeals to a specific segment of Bangladeshi patients, and all of them are providing exceptional service and value for money.

Thailand

Cultured and historic, exotic and tropical, Thailand radiates a golden hue from its glittering temples and tropical beaches. Thailand is a delightful tropical gateway with every street brimming with life. The country is historically popular among Bangladeshi tourists thanks to the proximity and kinder exchange rate. Over the years, Thailand has also become a preferred destination for medical tourists. The number of Bangladeshi patients boarding a flight to Thailand has gradually been on the rise. Last year, approximately 80,000 Bangladeshi patients traveled to the country for the sake of their health. Socioeconomically, Thailand, as a medical destination is favored by the Bangladeshi higher middle class. The availability of halal food and accommodation according to our socio-cultural requirement has cemented Thailand as a medical destination for Bangladeshi patients.
Thailand has produced one of the most thriving medical industries in the world. Its rise as a medical tourism destination is backed by the availability of the latest pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and implants supported by academic research. Thai government treats healthcare as a priority, with more than 14% of the total budget allocated to this sector. They have established an industry that is high-tech yet affordable. Medical tourism is a mandate of the Thai government; it has permitted the Thai Board of Investment to allow the medical industry a competitive edge so that it can acquire the latest medical technologies and efficient human resources.

Bangladeshi couples are flocking to Thailand for IVF treatment due to the high success rate and quality of their service.

In a conversation, Razia Sultana Bianka, who was an international correspondent at Vejthani Hospital, Bangkok and marketing executive at Phyathai Nawamin Hospital, worked in the Thai medical industry for more than five years , shared her insights on why Thailand as a medical destination has gained so much popularity among Bangladeshis.
According to Bianka, a big chunk of Bangladeshis travel to Thailand for stomach issues, to do endoscopies, colonoscopy or seeking help for gastric problems and cancers related to it. There are also a large number of patients who go there to find relief from intense back pain, after years of failed treatment in Bangladesh. Recently, Bangladeshi couples are flocking to Thailand for IVF treatment due to the high success rate and quality of their service.There is a colossal difference between treatment in the country and Thailand. First of all, Thailand’s medical sector is very service oriented. Every strategy is consumer oriented. Doctors and nurses in every single hospital are very calm and polite and allow patients enough time to convey their problems efficiently. Conversely, in Bangladesh, the doctors are very competent, but there is always a rush in the system, and the whole medical service sector is very poorly organized and managed.
During her employment, she interacted with thousands of patients from Bangladesh who have similar complaints about the medical industry back home. Most people complain about misdiagnosis and mistreatment. Our healthcare system has an agonizingly poor reputation on reliability. The cost of treatment in Bangladesh is the same as Thailand, but here (Bangladesh) the patients are not getting the same quality of treatment. The doctors and staff do not have enough time to listen to their problems. Understandably, the rush is high, but everything can be managed with a proper system”.
Medical tourists enjoy a lot of priority in Thailand; almost all the hospitals there, which provides services for international patients have their separate international management sectors where every country has their translators. And thus, there is no communication gap between the doctors and the patients. The international patients also have access to the accommodations in the hospital premises and even shuttle transportation from the hotel to the hospital. Also, most Bangladeshi patients are Muslims, they might require a special arrangement for food and praying facilities. Most hospitals have adequate praying facilities and halal food courts.
Poor customer service is pushing more and more patients abroad. An excellent service sector and proper management are very important. No one wants to compromise with their health. “I believe that any service industry can be improved with proper regulations and strictly maintained protocols without any compromise,” she adds.

Pro-tips:

Choose the hospital doing your research and set a budget that is flexible as it can be pretty costly. It is better to do the tests there, especially MRI as they don’t accept the reports from Bangladesh due to reliability issues. Start with a full body check, that way a lot of complications (if any) can be detected, and the general doctor will guide you through each department, and it will be easy for the patients. Be patient; Hospitals are very professional, even if there is a pressure of excess patients for some reason, you will be attained as your treatment requires.

India

In an interview, Nasrin Ara, a housewife, avowed her frustrations about seeking cancer treatment in Bangladesh. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and spent more than a year seeking remedies here. Due to a complication, she required both chemotherapy and operation; therefore, for convenience, she preferred to undergo both treatments in the same hospital In India, she couldn’t find the same facility anywhere in Bangladesh. Nasrin received a one-stop solution from the same hospital in which she registered a seat before boarding her flight. According to her, cancer treatment is cheaper in India, “It cost me 80.000 rupees, while here the cost is 1 lakh 20,000 Tk. Also, in India, if I buy 4 medicine, the 5th one is free from the company,” she adds.
When her cancer came back in 2017, she consulted local doctors who recommended her to return to her previous doctor in India as she has already sought treatment there. Nasrin believes doctors in Bangladesh don’t want to give patients enough time, which is crucial for an accurate diagnosis. In India, doctors provide cancer patients with a 30-40-minute follow-up test where they ask questions to the patient regarding their pain and comfort level. She completed 17 chemotherapies in India and the service has been excellent. The nurses and the ward-boys knew how to take care of cancer patients undergoing chemo. They were attentive and regularly asked questions to understand the patient’s discomfort. They routinely measured blood pressure, asked about pain levels, and this is a big reason why she will prefer to travel to India for treatment in the future.
Nasrin’s story isn’t new or rare. She is part of the growing number of Bangladeshi patients seeking treatment in India. Statistically, one in three foreign patients in India is a Bangladeshi; we are the largest source of medical tourists for our neighbors. India, as a medical destination is mostly frequented by but not limited to the middle- and lower-income segment of our country. According to India’s ministry of tourism, over the last four years, the number of Bangladeshi medical tourists to India has increased by 83%. India’s entire medical industry is worth more than 3 billion dollars, which is 18% of the global market share. Bangladeshi patients account for 55% of that 3-billion-dollar market.

According to India’s ministry of tourism, over the last four years, the number of Bangladeshi medical tourists to India has increased by 83%. India’s entire medical industry is worth more than 3 billion dollars, which is 18% of the global market share. Bangladeshi patients account for 55% of that 3-billion-dollar market.

Indian government and regulators have understood the value and prospects of Bangladeshi medicals tourists. In hopes of attracting more patients, they have made it easier for Bangladeshis to seek treatment in India. Last year (2018), the Indian government relaxed visa regulations by allowing Bangladeshis to seek treatment in India with a tourist visa. A clear indication of the Indian government’s evaluation of prospects of medical tourism from Bangladesh. Concurrently, Indian hospitals are also looking to dip their toes in the expanding pool of Bangladeshi patients. Several renowned hospitals have open consultation centers to access the problems of patients and guide them even before they pack their bags for India.
It is incredibly convenient for Bangladeshis to go for treatment in India when they are forced to travel abroad for a cure. It starts with proximity and language. India is our closest neighbor, and it is effortless to complete the journey in a few hours, which is very crucial for serious patients. They can choose any mode of transportation, including road, rail and air with launch services soon commencing. With proximity comes another advantage, ease of communication. Kolkata is the most popular destination for Bangladeshis because doctors and staff there speak Bangla, which allows the opportunity for patients to express their concerns without the help of any translators. Even if any patient has to travel further west, he/she can communicate in Hindi, a language most Bangladeshis have a basic understanding of.
Affordability is perhaps the most significant advantage of having treatment in India for us. Compared to other countries in the world, the cost of treatment is meager in India. The country offers international standard procedures at a very affordable price, which is a boon for Bangladeshis. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for most middle and low-income people of our country to seek treatment abroad and would have put even more pressure on our already abysmal health care sector. In fact, evident from my earlier conversation with Nasrin, medical costs in India is even lower than in Bangladesh. During my interview with her, one thing that really stood out and awed me is the professionalism of Indian doctors and health care workers. She repeatedly mentioned that doctors in India allow patients to convey their issues and to be comfortable around them, which she missed in her own country. Health workers in India have made sure to leave behind fond memories for a patient undergoing cancer treatment through their professional etiquette and empathetic approach.

Singapore

In 2017, Singapore topped the list on Bloomberg’s Index of the world’s most efficient healthcare systems. Known as the center of excellence in Southeast Asia, Singapore has set a benchmark for the most advanced medical facilities in the world. Frequented by medical tourists from all around the world, Singapore as a medical destination is only affordable for the higher middle class and high-class segment of Bangladeshis. Singapore hospitals offer the most advanced and sophisticated treatments available to humans. They are backed by R&D from local medical institutions which are ranked amongst the top in the world. Hospitals are equipped with cutting edge diagnostic technology providing safety and reliability for patients. Bangladeshi patients can have access to advanced treatments such as laparoscopic surgeries, robotic surgery, and even single-port (single incision) surgeries. The latest treatment that is available in Singapore is known as “The Da Vinci Surgical System”, which enables surgeons to perform delicate and complex operations with high accuracy and dexterity using a forceps-like master control while viewing highly magnified 3D images of the interior of the body. The robotic arms are inserted through tiny surgical cuts and act as an extension of the surgeon’s arm, mirroring every hand movement and enabling delicate and complex operations to be done safely and accurately.

The latest treatment that is available in Singapore is known as “The Da Vinci Surgical System”, which enables surgeons to perform delicate and complex operations with high accuracy and dexterity using a forceps-like master control while viewing highly magnified 3D images of the interior of the body.

For this issue, we are featuring Mount Elizabeth Hospital which is one of the most reputed medical institutions in the country and is the most popular amongst Bangladeshi medical tourists in Singapore.

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