Asian nations cash in on medical tourism: cosmetic is the most popular option

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Indy Lifestyle Online

There has been one bright note among all the hardships endured by the Asian travel industry over the past two years - the continued rise of medical tourism.

The double blow of the world economic crisis and, to a lesser degree, swine flu fears, has seen most markets in the region suffer double digit declines in numbers but not so when it comes to tourists looking for a little treatment to go with their holidays.

India, for example, saw 450,000 inbound patients treated in 2007 - but expects that number to rise by 25 percent by 2012.

And a study commissioned by the Indian tourism commission put all that down to the "low-cost and vast range of health care facilities provided."

As health care costs have risen in the West - along with waiting lists - more people looking for treatment have turned East.

In India, heart bypass surgery costs US$6,000 (4,480 euros) while the same treatment in North America would set you back around US$19,700 (14,700 euros), according to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry report released last week.

India sees its main competitors for the medical tourism market as Singapore, Malaysia and Singapore, which offer similar services with the majority of medical staff trained overseas. And then there is choice.

There were more than 3,000 hospitals and 726,000 registered medical practitioners in India in 2009 - as well as a host of alternative treatment centers offering the likes of Ayurveda and homeopathy programs.

South Korea, too, is cashing in on the trend.

The Health Ministry and the Korea Health Industry Development (KHIDI) has announced that for the first time, American subsidiaries of Korean companies would be sending American workers to Korea for treatment - simply because it is cheaper for them to do so.

"Even taking into account the various travel expenses to get to Korea it doesn't cost half as much as medical expenses at U.S. hospitals," Jung Ki-tek, a medical professor at Kyunhee University in Seoul, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.

The KHIDI, meanwhile, claims it costs 19.8 million won (13,350 euros) for knee surgery in South Korea - compared to 55.7 million won (37,540 euros) in the US.

According to the website indianholiday.com, the most popular forms of service in that country are bariatrics (prevention of obesity), cosmetic surgery, dentistry, cardiology and fertility treatment.

But overall it seems cosmetic surgery is the most popular option for medical tourists.

Singapore, for example, claims 250,000 people travel to the island state each year for a little nip and tuck - the majority apparently coming from the Middle East.

Other major cosmetic surgery centers include Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Lithuania, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Poland, and South Africa, according to www.worldnews.co.in.

Most popular treatments are rhinoplasty (nose reshaping) and weight reduction surgery such as liposuction and tummy tuck, breast augmentation, facelift, and eyelid surgery, the site says.

MS

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