Bangladeshi patients spent THB 6.7 billion in Thailand in 2019

As the economy has grown significantly over the past 20 years, Bangladesh has become a major contributor to Thailand’s medical tourism sector.

The data can be seen in a visualized stat published by Visual Capitalist using data from the IMF.

About 4,300 Bangladeshi citizens contributed about 6.7 billion Thai baht to the Thai economy in 2019, according to sources at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, a Thai diplomat in Dhaka said recently.

According to sources, 85% of all patients leaving Bangladesh are treated in India, about 10% in Thailand and the rest in Singapore, Malaysia, UK, US and China.

A total of 139,622 Bangladeshi tourists visited Thailand in recent years, including 21,817 in 2020, 1,955 in 2021 and 6,319 in the period January-June 2022, according to the Thai Immigration Service.

The outbreak of Covid-19 restricted the movement of travelers around the world in 2020, 2021 and early 2022.

The number of tourists from Bangladesh decreased in 2020 and 2021 and increased slightly this year.

Thailand expects tourist numbers to more than triple to nearly 1 million a month from October as the nation lifts most of the pandemic-era travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh can replicate the medical tourism model like the countries of India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in the medium and long term by ensuring some steps such as the improvement of nursing, comprehensive, rigorous and higher practical training of doctors and the conduct of the health care sector working people and better hospital services, experts said.

The Director General of the Center for Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), Dr. Cherdsak Virapat, also a Thai citizen, recently underwent successful surgery at The United Hospital.

He praised the hospital’s healthcare system and the quality of doctors in Bangladesh.

Sharing the success of medical tourism in Thailand, Thai Trade Advisor in Dhaka Khemathat Archawathamrong said Bangladesh can also thrive in this sector by improving nursing care and ensuring its doctors’ commitment to their patients.

Former World Health Organization (WHO) regional adviser Muzaherul Huq said Bangladesh could develop medical tourism targeting the citizens of north-east India and Nepal.

Muzaherul Huq, also a former senior adviser to the World Federation for Medical Education, said Bangladesh needs to set up international-standard hospitals in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong to boost medical tourism.

However, Huq said Bangladesh must ensure an international quality healthcare system and service for patients.

Bangladeshi patients usually go to Chennai, Vellore, Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi for better treatment.

Huq, who worked in Kathmandu during his medical career, said Nepal has improved medical tourism in recent years to appeal to Indian tourism.

Bangladesh has the largest sea beach in Cox’s Bazar. Patients come for treatment and to see the beauty of the beach. Against this background, Bangladesh needs to improve local, tourism and health systems, he added.

Although Bangladeshis spend billions of dollars each year on treatments abroad, central bank statistics show that medical tourism is peanuts, according to economists, policymakers, bankers and doctors.

The country’s banking and income tax system needs to be revised to estimate the cost of medical tourism abroad, a former member of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) said.

Md Serajul Islam, Executive Director of Bangladesh Bank, said Bangladeshis abroad spent US$2.2 million in FY19, US$1.6 million in FY20, US$1.6 million in FY21 and US$0.5 million dollars spent in the July-September period of current FY23 while receiving treatment abroad.

The cost of treatment in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia is 4/5 times higher than in Bangladesh. Treatment costs in major Indian cities such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai are also expensive.

Although reliable and correct statistics are not available, the country’s entrepreneurs have invested almost 200,000 Tk in the healthcare sector in the last 20 years,” said Dr. Abu M. Shamim, Managing Director of Labaid Cardiac Hospital.

The annual turnover of these hospitals is around Tk150,000 crore. Each hospital has over 100 beds. About 50,000 doctors and 1.1 million health workers employed in these hospitals provide thousands of patients with the best possible health care, he claimed.

The country has established some classy and high class hospitals like Square Hospitals, United Hospitals, Apollo Hospitals (now Evercare Hospital), Lab Aid Hospital, Green Life Hospitals, Popular Life Hospital, Ali Asgar Hospital, Ayesha Memorial Hospitals in the last 15-20 years and about 200 medium-sized hospitals.

The cost of open heart surgery in Bangladesh is 2-3 thousand Tk in Bangladesh, the same treatment costs 10-25 thousand Tk in Singapore.

Under existing Bangladesh Bank rules, a person can carry up to US$10,000 for medical purposes without requiring central bank approval when going abroad.

dr Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Syed Abdul Hamid, a professor at the Institute of Health Economics at Dhaka University, said Bangladesh Bank’s data on the cost of treatment abroad is very low compared to what patients and their families actually spend.

“Foreign missions in Dhaka can provide medical visa data to relevant authorities of Bangladesh, which in turn can help in preparing a solid paper on medical tourism abroad,” he also said.

Mahbub Ahmed, a former government secretary, told the Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh Bank, the National Board of Revenue (NBR), commercial banks, BIDS, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and research institutes could work to mimic the global medical tourism mechanism.

Meanwhile, the High Commission of India issued over 2.5 million visas to Bangladeshis in 2019, a year before the coronavirus pandemic hit the world.

Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, also a popular medical tourism destination, issue over 300 visas to Bangladeshis annually, including a significant number of medical visas.

According to sources, about 20-25% of Bangladeshis who visit neighboring India each year are medical tourists.

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