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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 11:35 GMT
'Tourists' harming India's health
Transplant surgery
Foreigners go to India for transplant operations
Health tourists are helping destabilise India's health system, doctors claim.

They say too much is being spent on care for foreign patients and care for rich Indians - while public health care for poorer people is neglected.

Dr Samiran Nundy, from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, and Amit Sengupta from India's People's Health Movement made the claims.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they called on the Indian government to reconsider its priorities.

It is time for the government to pay more attention to improving the health of Indians rather than to enticing foreigners from affluent countries with offers of low cost operations and convalescent visits to the Taj Mahal
Dr Samiran Nundy and Dr Amit Sengupta

The doctors say that increasing numbers of patients are coming to India from the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh for high level care such as complex paediatric operations or liver transplants, which are not carried out in their own countries.

In addition, patients are also coming from the UK, Europe and the US for "quick, efficient and cheap" heart bypasses or orthopaedic operations, the doctors say in the BMJ.

'Five star hospitals'

Dr Nundy, a gastro-intestinal surgeon, and Mr Sengupta say that, while a shoulder operation in the UK would cost 10,000 at a private hospital, or entail a wait on the NHS, in India, the same procedure can be done for 1,700 - and within 10 days of the first email contact.

They say India is one of the top 20 countries in the world in terms of its spending on private healthcare.

The doctors say drug and IT companies and private individuals have got into the market.

"They now dominate the upper end of the market, with five star hospitals manned by foreign trained doctors who provide services at prices that only foreigners and the richest Indians can afford."

But at the same time, the country has one of the lowest levels of public spending on healthcare in the world - less than 1% of gross domestic product.

Dr Nundy and Dr Sengupta said the conditions seen by the poorest were seeking care were very different.

"Each harassed doctor may have to see more than 100 patients in a single outpatient session.

"Some of these doctors advise patients, legally or illegally, to `meet them privately' if they want more personalised care," they said.

Dr Nundy and Dr Sengupta said that there were even reports of hospital patients having to pay bribes to get clean bed linen.

They also warned that some Indians have to go to great lengths to pay for private care, having to borrow money or sell assets to finance treatment.

They add: "In India, each year tuberculosis kills half a million people and diarrhoeal disease more than 600,000.

"It is time for the government to pay more attention to improving the health of Indians rather than to enticing foreigners from affluent countries with offers of low cost operations and convalescent visits to the Taj Mahal."


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