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Times of India
22 November 2010
By Neha Madaan
Pune, India

They came with problems and left feeling better
Healthcare Sector Is Growing In India And Early Starter Pune Has Its Share Of Wellness Pie
Medical Tourism
Pune Is Sunshine City
Medical tourism is booming in Pune. A reasonable efficiency in healthcare, comparatively low treatment costs and state–of–the–art hospitals, hospitality and other feel–good factors have put the city among the top destinations for medical tourism.

A study by Noida–based RNCOS, a market research and information analysis company, has said that India’s share in the global medical tourism industry will climb to around 2.4 per cent by 2012–end. The number of medical tourists is anticipated to grow at that rate of over 19 per cent in the forecast period to reach 1.1 million by 2012. Pune, said medical experts, will gain in a big way.

So, what draws foreigners to the city’s hospitals? Among the foremost to jump on to the bandwagon was city–based Sancheti Institute for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. Today, the hospital treats almost 600 patients from foreign countries annually. Most come for joint replacement, spine–related disorders and limb reconstruction surgeries.

Chairman Dr Parag Sancheti said, "The cost of treatment in India is 30 per cent less than most other countries. More and more Indian doctors are now fellowshiptrained abroad, a fact that makes advanced specialised treatment easily available. Such a scenario is absent in other countries where patients have waiting lists to contend with first before they seek treatment.

Hospitals here are well–equipped, offer international standard rooms and other facilities such as in–house translators and tourist packages for relatives."

According to Sancheti, Pune is linked by air, railways and road. "In addition, the weather here is pleasant almost throughout the year. A hospitable environment, good roads, shopping malls, multicuisine restaurants and local tourism make the city more attractive," he said. What also comes as a relief is that there is almost no waiting period.

"Lack of medical insurance and a long waiting list for doctors back home means that sometimes patients may have to wait for years to get medical treatment. High cost of surgeries also makes them seek treatment in India," said Sancheti.

Bhomi Bhote, chief executive officer at Ruby Hall Clinic, feels that the city has become a major hub for medical tourism. "The cost and quality of treatment and proximity to Mumbai are two major reasons. Most patients come from the UK, Kenya, Nigeria and Iraq for kidney, cardiac, oncology treatment, apart from obesity and cosmetic surgeries such as liposuction and bariatric surgeries. Patients from Iraq visit our facility for rectifying defects caused by mine and bomb blasts. Such surgeries in the West are prohibitive," he said.

Bhote said the hospital has as many as 30 to 40 foreign patients at any point. It has an exclusive ward for their needs. "The ward is equipped with e–mail facility, translators and Iraqi as well as Nigerian meals," he said, adding that a surgery may cost Rs 5 to 6 lakh. It was a big boost to medical tourism, he added.

The ‘superbug’ scare, which says India may not be a safe medical tourism destination, has not deterred foreigners. "None of them have even brought it up. The scare was merely a creation and the phenomenon does not even exist," said Bhote.

Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital in Pimpri treats 90 to 100 foreign patients per year, mainly for knee replacement and hip surgeries, cardiac problems, kidney transplants, urology, cancer, cosmetic and obesity surgeries and dental care.

"Patients from Africa, the Middle East, Commonwealth of Independent States countries, the US, Maldives, Fiji Islands and Mauritius come for planned surgeries. Pune is now seen as the fifth most preferred destination. It can enhance its current status and rise to the level of other preferred healthcare destinations. The city has already become an IT hub, which attracts many international clients, who combine business or pleasure trips with medical needs," said the hospital’s CEO Dr S P Singh.

Nigdi–based Lokmanya Hospital treats foreign tourists for joint replacements such as total knee replacement, spine, hip, and elbow. "One reason why Pune is a preferred destination for foreign tourists is because many doctors come to this city for fellowship, especially in orthopaedics. During their fellowship, they realise the expertise of the doctors and hospitals here, and in turn tell many foreigners to seek treatment in Pune," said hospital director Shailesh Niyogi.

They get most medical tourists from the Middle East. As for the superbug scare, Nyogi said that none of his foreign patients had alluded to it. "The superbug scare does not exist," he said.

According to senior marketing manager of the Jehangir Hospital, Sainath Pradhan, though the city has talent and medical infrastructure, direct flights and better accessibility would help."The increase in the number of medical tourists can be linked to word–ofmouth publicity by those who have had a highly satisfying experience, low costs and their enjoyable stay in the city. Pune also has the weather on its side," he said.

Most tourists come to Jehangir for cancer, cardiology, orthopaedics, gastro problems, neuro and spine, open heart, bariatric surgeries, renal transplants and joint replacements.

Such surgeries are not available in the Middle East and Nigeria. "Those who can afford Europe do not come here. Those who cannot, come. Being price sensitive, they prefer Pune as we offer more value for money," he said.

There are other feel–good factors like pickup and drop facilities. "A majority of our patients come via Mumbai. We offer pickup and drop facilities, arrange local sightseeing tours like a visit to the Osho commune that most patients and relatives have already heard about," he said.

City hospitals offer high comfort level. They have translators, cuisine, special wards, Mumbai airport pickup and drop facilities and local sightseeing tours thrown in Fatima Khatau suffers from tuberculosis of the cervical spine and is currently at the Sancheti Institute for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.

"I had initially gone to Manipal for treatment. They prescribed medicines to treat my condition and I returned to Tanzania thinking that I would get better. However, the pain recurred and it was excruciating. I was advised by my husband’s friend to seek treatment in Pune. Doctors in my home country had also advised me to come here, as there was no suitable treatment available there. I have been here since a week now, and have undergone physiotherapy and am on medication," said Khatau. She said she felt better now.

Laila Ali Al Mujaini from Oman has come here to get her father treated through Sancheti’s hip infection control surgery. "A similar operation was not available in my country. I contacted Dr Sancheti and he was more than willing to treat my father. I am sure that the operation will help him recover," she said.

Abdul Rehman Ubadaushe from Nigeria has come to Pune for cervical spine surgery. He is currently at the Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital. "I came here because there is no specialised treatment for this condition in Nigeria. I have been here for three months now and am undergoing physiotherapy. Before I underwent this surgery, I had lost total bladder control. The surgery has fixed that problem and I am feeling much better now," he said.

The increase in the number of medical tourists can be linked to word–of–mouth publicity by those who have had a satisfying experience, low costs and their enjoyable stay in the city. Pune also has the weather on its side Sainath Pradhan | JEHANGIR HOSPITAL Pune is preferred by foreign medical tourists because many doctors come here for their fellowship, especially for orthopaedics.

They realise the expertise of the doctors and hospitals here, and in turn tell many foreigners to seek treatment in the city
Shailesh Niyogi | Lokmanya Hospital

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