Health Tourism in Free Trade Zones

Health Tourism  in Free Trade Zones
Health Tourism  in Free Trade Zones

Developing and promoting health tourism in Iran’s free trade zones is a priority of the Health Ministry and the ministry supports all forms of investment in those regions, according to Health Minister Seyyed Hassan Hashemi.

“We urge those at the helm of free zones to cooperate with the ministry to help improve healthcare in the zones and develop medical tourism,” the official was quoted as saying by Farina news agency.

Noting the potential of Iran’s seven free zones to accommodate tourists seeking medical care, Hashemi said his ministry “supports the private sector’s investments in health tourism.”

“Free zones are not separate from Iran, and the ministry has plans for it,” he said.

The minister said developing healthcare and medical tourism in free zones has been a focus of the government ever since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

Hashemi pointed to the increase in the healthcare budget of the Arvand Free Zone, completing the construction of Kish Hospital and upgrading the facilities and equipment of Chabahar Hospital as examples of the administration’s commitment to help develop medical tourism.

 Key Sector

The potential of health tourism in augmenting Iran’s emerging travel industry has encouraged government bodies to work in harmony to ensure its calculated rise to regional, if not global, prominence.

In early 2015, a council was formed comprising reps from the foreign and health ministries, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Medical Council.

The primary task of the council, called Health Tourism Leadership Council, is to review and approve regulations that directly affect hospitals that cater to health tourists and travel agencies that bring health tourists to Iran.

Furthermore, officials at the ICHHTO claim to have devised a “master tourism plan”, expected to go into effect as part of the next five-year economic development plan (2016-21), that includes measures to help develop medical tourism.

Recent reports said nearly 270 hospitals have expressed readiness to admit foreign tourists seeking medical treatment, according to Shahin Mohammad Sadeqi, a member of Majlis Health Commission.

“The hospitals have set up special wards for health tourists, and once the ministry certifies their compliance with international standards, they will be granted operating licenses,” he said.

The MP said the annual foreign exchange budget of the ministry is less than 2 billion dollars. “Our neighboring countries spend upwards of $50 billion in the US and European countries. If we can get only 10% of that amount, the ministry’s budget will more than double.”

In 2004, an estimated 12,000 people traveled to Iran for advanced medical treatment and the number reached 17,000 in 2005. The data for visitors in the following years has not been published.

In May, Deputy Health Minister Mohammad Haji Aqajani told Fars News Agency that hospitals will be required to register patients who have entered Iran for the sole purpose of receiving medical treatment.

This will provide authorities with detailed information about the type of treatment each person receives, among a host of other useful data, which allows officials to devise effective plans to upgrade facilities and equipment.

”The lack of such a system has held us back for too long,” Aqajani said.

According to Masoud Soltanifar, the head of ICHHTO, Iran’s annual revenue from health tourism is between $400 million and $500 million, while the target is to generate $2.5 billion in the foreseeable future.