Medical Tourism Expertise Helps Thailand Cope With MERS

Medical Tourism Expertise Helps Thailand Cope With MERSMedical Tourism Expertise Helps Thailand Cope With MERS

Thailand’s status as a hub for medical tourism could be helping the country contain the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, government and health officials said, after confirming its first case of the deadly virus last week.

Tourism accounts for about 10% of the Thai economy and the country is also the top destination in Southeast Asia for patients seeking low-cost, quality healthcare, with an average 1.4 million medical tourists a year, compared with 600,000 for Singapore, a Thai medical tourism association said, according to Reuters.

That meant the stakes were high for Thailand when the health ministry reported on Thursday the first case of MERS in a 75-year-old man from Oman, who had traveled to Bangkok for treatment for a heart condition.

South Korea, currently battling the largest MERS outbreak outside Saudi Arabia, reported two more deaths and three new cases on Monday, bringing the number of fatalities to 27 and the total infections to 172.

In Thailand, although authorities said 176 people had been exposed to the MERS patient, Deputy Health Minister Vachira Pengchan said on Monday there were no new cases.

“It is the very fact that we are a travel and medical hub that works in our favor and that allows us to be prepared,” said Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul.

“It is our experience in handling foreign visitors and medical tourists from high-risk regions like the Middle East and South Korea. Thailand is also prepared because we saw what happened in South Korea; we had time.”

As well as being a gateway for many of the more than 25 million visitors to Thailand each year, Bangkok is also one of the region’s main aviation hubs.

At the city’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, face masks were handed out to passengers at the weekend, while Thailand’s health and tourism ministers showed reporters thermoscanning equipment and special airplane parking bays set aside for flights coming in from high-risk countries.

The airport has ordered heightened screening of arrivals from South Korea and the Middle East, general manager Sirote Duangratana told reporters.