Medical Tourism May Pose Risk to Public Health

Medical Tourism May  Pose Risk to Public HealthMedical Tourism May  Pose Risk to Public Health

I n recent years, Iran has seen an influx of foreign patients, especially from neighboring countries Iraq and Afghanistan.

 However, according to health experts, due to the lack of adequate health safety regulations and control on the process, the visitors can put public health at risk.

“At present, our hospitals are not meant for admission of foreign medical tourists who seek various services. And patients from neighboring countries, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan (due to the insurgency, conflicts and consequently the disruption in their health services),  can put our people’s health at risk,” Hassan Rashki, head of the Health Tourism Organization at the Health Ministry told the Persian language newspaper ‘Donye-e-Eqtesad’.

In order to prepare the grounds for admission of foreign patients to local hospitals, last year (ended March 20), a council comprising officials from the Islamic Republic of Iran Medical Council (IRIMC), Health Ministry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Iran Cultural Heritage, and Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) was formed.

The council is planning measures to improve the marketing of health tourism and prepare the grounds for establishment of international patients department (IPD) in hospitals as proposed by the Health Ministry. It has also planned 15 health hubs in different cities including Shiraz, Kish, Rasht, Firouzkuh and Sareyn.

 IPD Permits

Rashki said so far 276 hospitals have been registered by the Health Tourism Organization for granting IPD permits. Hospitals have expressed readiness to admit foreign tourists seeking medical treatment, but their compliance with international standards should first be certified by the Health Ministry and physicians working in IPDs should have special professional qualification and certificates.

He also pointed to the need for creation of specific health hubs to meet the needs of health tourism. Development of health hubs is essential for health tourism but “the state is apparently unable  to develop them.” Lack of infrastructural facilities doesn’t allow for the admission of international patients, he stressed.

Large numbers of expatriate Iranians periodically visit the country to make use of the national healthcare facilities since it is cheaper and affordable. They mostly undergo plastic and gum tissue graft surgery and get dental implants besides primary healthcare, but “that cannot be called health tourism,” he said.

 Marketing Strategy

Health tourism experts say in order to meet international standards in the sector which can help generate foreign exchange, Iran should establish professional marketing companies.

At present, there is no proper marketing strategy to attract patients from different countries, Rashki noted.

Health Minister Seyyed Hassan Hashemi admits that despite qualified medical personnel, the lack of infrastructure could put a dent in Iran’s attempt at becoming a regional, if not global, medical tourism hotspot.

“We have the manpower to cater to the needs of medical tourists, but we need foreign investment to build more facilities,” he said quoted by Mehr News Agency.

Hashemi said reputable global brands will help expand healthcare centers across Iran and promote health tourism abroad.

Most health tourists visiting Iran hail from the Persian Gulf and their top destinations are Tehran, Mashhad and Shiraz.

“But I believe more cities can cater to foreign health tourists coming from long distances,” he said.

Hashemi said Iran has made great strides in organ transplantation and is one of the leading countries in this field.

 Organ Donation

 Iran is known not only for its advanced live organ donation program but also for its achievements in cadaver organ transplantations. Annually, 600 liver transplants are performed in Namazi Hospital affiliated to Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Fars Province. Sixty innovative medical universities in the country are also known to provide excellent medical services.

The country’s annual revenue from health tourism is between $400 million and $500 million.