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Posted at: Dec 26, 2018, 1:53 AM; last updated: Dec 26, 2018, 2:09 AM (IST)

Pak losing Afghan medical tourism to North India

Pak losing Afghan medical tourism to North India

Varinder Singh

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, December 25

Pakistan’s loss is India’s gain. The neighbouring country is fast losing its decades’ old Afghan medical tourism to North India. Medical tourism involves people travelling from their native country to another country for the purpose of obtaining medicare and treatment.

The Pakistan government’s Ministry of Commerce had admitted last week that the number of neighbouring Afghanistan-based medical tourists to the country was trickling down fast for a couple of deterrents.

These included intricacies involving Pakistan’s border management policy, increasing difficulties faced by Afghans in getting Pakistani visa, compulsory police reports and security clearances and ‘unnecessary security’ checks at the Pak-Afghan border crossing point.

What, however, has worked as a major factor against Pakistan is the escalating medical treatment costs and difficulties faced by Afghan nationals in getting appointments from doctors and even accommodation in Pakistan.

The admission about Pakistan’s dwindling healthcare provider position has come in the shape of a written reply of Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce to a question of country’s Member of National Assembly Mahesh Kumar Malani.

Pakistan had retained its position as a top medical tourism destination for Afghan nationals until 2016 mainly for favourable factors like almost common language, culture and lesser treatment costs. But, the Afghan medical tourist influx got diverted to North India, including Punjab, after 2016 for comparatively cost-effective treatment facilities and easy availability of specialist doctors.

“New Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida have emerged as three preferred cities for thousands of Afghans for treatment purposes. A number of them have also started coming to Punjab. We have performed heart surgery on a couple of Afghan patients,” said Dr Charanjit Singh Pruthi, managing director of Jalandhar-based BBC HeartCare and Capitol Hospital.

According to Dr Vijay Mahajan, the treatment costs of heart bypass surgery and knee replacement was 50 per cent lesser in India as compared to Pakistan.

Dr Kuldip Singh, a Ludhiana-based laproscopic surgeon, said a major chunk of Afghan patients come to New Delhi-based top hospitals like Medanta, Batra and Fortis. “A number of kidney, heart and knee-replacement patients have started coming down to Ludhiana-based Apollo, DMC and other hospitals due to increased awareness,” he pointed out.

Earlier, Afghans landing at IGI Airport for treatment were allegedly misled by conduits of a number of Delhi hospitals, insiders say. Now Afghans are more aware about the availability of cost-effective medical facilities in other parts of North India, mainly Punjab, thanks to proliferation of internet and other communication channels in Afghanistan.

“Most of Afghan patients are not as rich. So, they have started looking out for cost-effective alternative healthcare facilities even within India,” observed Ludhiana-based dentist Dr Vivek Saggar.

Amarjit Singh, India’s Protector General of Immigrants based in New Delhi who, has remained posted as the Consul General of India in Heart (Afghanistan) observed that more than 500 Afghan tourists were granted Indian visa daily from Herat-based Indian Consulate alone. “From entire country, the number reaches thousands. Eighty per cent of Afghans seeking Indian travel visa in fact, come here to seek medical help. Since, they find seeking Indian medical visa a bit cumbersome, most of Afghan come here on travel visa and go back after getting themselves treated or an array of serious illnesses,” said Amarjit Singh.

What’s working in India’s favour

  • Escalating treatment costs in Pakistan, its poor border management policy, difficulties for Afghans in getting Pakistani visa and compulsory police reports and unnecessary security checks at the Pak-Afghan border. 
  • Treatment cost of major diseases is at least 50 per cent lesser in India as compared to Pakistan.
  • After New Delhi, Noida and Gurugram, Punjab is emerging as a major medical tourism destination for Afghan nationals.

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