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India’s medical tourism

People who have the money frequently travel to other countries when they have serious illnesses or need expensive procedures like a kidney transplant or heart surgery. Hopes are that one day Ethiopia will have similar medical facilities and staff to more developed countries but it will require a huge amount of money and years of training to get health care professionals up to speed.
India is a popular place for Ethiopians with the means and others from Africa to travel to for medical treatment. Now some professionals from Indian hospitals are coming to Ethiopia to train Ethiopian health professionals and share experiences. BLK Super Specialty is one of them. The hospital has trained a lot of nurses, and doctors and helped them come to India for hands on training.
Manju Sharma is a Deputy Manager of International Business Relations at this hospital who has travelled to Ethiopia over 15 times to promote her hospital’s services and share her knowledge. She has an MBA in international marketing and twelve years of experience in international patient service in Hospitals. Capital’s Reporter Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Manju to explore more about the BLK Super Specialty mission in Ethiopia and medical tourism as a whole. Excerpts:


Capital: How did medical tourism become so popular?

Manju Sharma:
Medical Tourism refers to people travelling to a country other than their own to obtain medical treatment. In the past this usually referred to those who travelled from less developed countries for treatment unavailable at home. However, in recent years it may equally refer to those from developed countries who travel from their country to developing countries for lower priced medical treatment. The motivation may be also for medical services unavailable or illegal in the home country.Historically, patients came from developing countries toIndia and other industrialized countries to access specific healthcare services that were not available at home. That continues to a significant degree, but the last decade has seen a general trend toward globalization, with better transportation, better communication, and information access through the Internet.

Capital: How can patients make an informed decision about seeking  medical assistance out of their country?

Manju Sharma: Local doctors, hospitals and other patients search online to find the best destination.

Capital: How would you describe India’s potential in this  market? How is it perceived abroad as a Medical Tourism Destination?

Manju Sharma: Medical Value travel in India is attractive because of its cost effectiveness and treatment from accredited facilities at par with developed countries at much lower prices. This offers a wide variety of procedures at about one twentieth of the cost of similar procedures in the United States

Capital: We have heard that BLK Super Specialty Hospital is one of the Indian hospitals working to increase Indian medical tourism. Could you tell us more about BLK?manju-sharma

Manju Sharma: BLK Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi, is one of India’s largest, private-sector, quaternary care hospitals and ranked amongst India’s top 10 hospitals. BLK’s comprehensive bouquet of clinical programs covers more than 50 super-specialities and 10 Centres of Excellence that bring together over 450 doctors, cutting edge technology and state-of-the-art infrastructure. With 650,000 square feet of built up area, BLK has over 650 beds including dedicated 125 critical care beds, 17 modular operation theatres and 4 minor OTs. BLK’s team of 1,500 healthcare providers includes 150 globally renowned super-specialists, 300 medical experts and over 800 nurses and paramedics.  The other is BLK Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital,Mumbai,  which is one of India’s iconic hospitals. Established in 1949, the hospital is patronized by leading echelons of society. The hospital has over a 350 bed capacity including 75 critical care beds, 10 operation rooms  and 3 minor OTs. With a clinical talent pool comprising of over 200 specialists, Nanavati has Mumbai’s leading clinical programs for Cardiac Sciences, Paediatrics, Orthopaedics, Radiology, Cosmetology, etc. The hospital’s DNB program, with over 50 residents pursuing super-specializations, is one of India’s most sought after education and training programs.

We have been working towards building an established strong international presence. As a quality healthcare provider we have built a strong relationships in countries like Kenya, Zambia, The Gambia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Niger, Benin & Togo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Iraq, Oman, Bahrain, Fiji, Nepal, Uzbekistan among others, where we have a varied mix of tie ups with universities, hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centres, Ministries of Health and Defence Forces. In these countries, we do more than just patient referral, we are involved in providing oversight and training programs to doctors, nurses, medical students and technicians of our local partners; we advise and assist on capacity building of local hospitals, clinics and speciality centres; Ethiopia and our doctors for conducting Continued Medical Education (CME) programmes and surgical camps in various countries; we  are providing telemedicine facilities; we are setting up our own diagnostic centres and IVF clinics; etc. We hope that in the near future we can do something along these lines in Ethiopia as well.

Capital:  What has BLK Super Specialty Hospital done to share experiences with Ethiopian medical professionals?

Manju Sharma: We are working in the Surgical Units in St Paul and Black Lion Hospital to train the local doctors and are providing medical education and training to healthcare professionals at Zewditu and Abet hospitals.

Capital: What are your plans for Ethiopia in the future ?

Manju Sharma: BLK wants to make Ethiopia independent in terms of  treatment. This is because 15 years before India was the same as Ethiopia. Doctors were travelling abroad for training and after their training they used their skills to train local doctors. Now India is the best medical treatment destination in the world. It may take another ten years but we wish the same for Ethiopia.

Capital:  India is one of the destinations of Ethiopians but some complain about the cost can you address this?

Manju Sharma: India is the most preferred destinations by most in  African countries including Ethiopia. The cost of treatment is the most affordable among other medical tourism destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, Dubai etc. Even the cost of living is very economical with options ranging from USD 150 per day.

Capital :Medical tourism in Europe and Asia is booming. In your opinion, what is the reason for this growth?

Manju Sharma: Treatment costs have risen consistently. It does not matter if you are paying out of your pocket or your insurance company is paying for you. As long as someone is paying for the treatment and the treatment costs increase, sooner or later equivalent quality at cheaper prices will be considered as an option.

Also, the number of private health-care players has grown significantly, especially in India. In search for higher revenue and footfall, these players will certainly look beyond their borders.

Capital: Can you already see the impact the medical tourism industry will have on the economy and especially the health-care system in India?

Manju Sharma: A large health-care system helps the economy to grow. In fact, there are signs of an increased number of medical tourists flying in because of the global economic slowdown. It is a kind of Giffen’s Paradox that we studied in Economics, which implies that the demand for cheaper goods and services goes up during inflation. Medical tourism is good for various allied industries including airlines, hotels, travel agencies, and the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industry.

In India, the medical tourism initiative is driven by players from the private sector. There has been a continual rise in the number of private health-care ventures since 1990. Hence, the medical tourism business is going to grow further as the number of private health-care businesses increases. Currently, the Compound Annual Growth Rate of the industry is estimated to be about 13 to 15 per cent per year.

Capital: Shortage of manpower has been identified as a major challenge in the health sector. This causes people with money to go abroad for care. How can the situation be improved to deliver quality service to Ethiopians?

Manju Sharma: Skilled Manpower is the major problem of developing countries and needs to be addressed. When the private sector in healthcare became aggressive two decades ago, they started inviting Indian doctors serving in the first world with lucrative packages and perks. I am sure hundreds of famous Ethiopian doctors are settled out abroad due to lack of hospitals locally. It’s time to bring back your heroes.

Capital: What are the major challenges facing Africa in medical tourism?

Manju Sharma: The first challenge is power, as many of us understand it you can’t have a modern hospital without proper electricity because you can’t work fully with your medical laboratory and equipment without power. Skilled doctor and paramedic education are the other problems.


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