Indian healthcare companies tap African market

Abuja, Sep 24 (IANS) As 30 of India's largest healthcare providers tap the growing African market, the Indian High Commission here dismissed media charges that it is pushing medical tourism to India by encouraging Nigerians needing critical care to go to that country.

About 30 of India's largest healthcare providers are participating in a seminar with the theme "India: Medical Tourism and Wellness Destination". The seminar is the prelude to an exhibition on medical tourism to be opened in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos later this week.

"We believe it to be a strictly humanitarian issue. The people who cynically see medical tourism as a zero-sum game of Nigeria's loss and India's gain, would perhaps be singing a different tune if either they themselves or their near and dear needed it," High Commissioner Mahesh Sachdev said when he opened a seminar on medical tourism here Monday.

Sachdev said the high commission does not actively "promote medical tourism to India - as is sometimes alleged. At the same time, we consider it our duty to help a fellow human being in anguish looking at India with hope - to do otherwise would be inhuman.

"This stereotyping is also belied by many Indian providers endeavouring to open healthcare facilities in Nigeria, so as to obviate need to travel to India," he said, adding that, "they need to be encouraged, not doubted. Above all, the patient need being given dignity and his choice respected. Indeed, critical health conditions can never be weighed in monetary terms."

Sahdev commended the organisers who have collaborated with the Indian High Commission in Abuja, India's Ministry of Tourism and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) for the initiative which has brought together concerned stakeholders to discuss opportunities for bilateral synergy in this vital sector.

"Against this evolving positive backdrop, organisation of this event was long overdue. I do hope that it would provide a valuable forum for the patients, in first place, and concerned stake-holders ranging from hospitals, professionals, logistics providers, etc. They should consider ways to improve the entire gamut of activities so as to better serve the esteemed end-user," he said.

In the light of the growing need of Nigerians travelling to seek medical care in India, Sachdev said the time has come for the start of direct flights between Nigeria and India.

"India has long been Nigeria's privileged partner in health sector - and our engagement is expanding. India has traditionally been Nigerians' first source of pharmaceuticals. While a large number of Indian medical professionals served here during 1970s and 80s, most have returned.

"Nevertheless, a number of doctors here have Indian links. Past four years have witnessed a steady rise in Nigerian patients travelling to India for medical interventions. Initially, these "medical tourists" went for relatively simple surgeries and were driven by lower costs. However, more complex, and expensive interventions are now quite common," Sachdev added.

He said India has become Nigerian patients' "destination of choice" for a number of reasons. "Apart from highly competitive costs, these reasons include seamless facilitation through pre-diagnostics in Nigeria itself and smoother visa, greater choice of Indian hospitals and better patient-doctor interface leading to higher mutual comfort and trust," Sachdev said.

He used the opportunity to dispel some persistent myths about medical tourism, in general, and from Nigeria to India, in particular. "By definition, a medical tourist is not someone travelling abroad for fun or luxury. He or she is reluctantly going to distant destination such as India despite his vulnerable condition - mostly because his life is in critical danger. Such conditions can visit anyone, anytime. It is natural for such a person - or his or her family members and friends - to seek best possible cure at closest possible point."

(Francis Kokutse can be contacted at fkokutse@hotmail.com)

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