Global estimates suggest that 100 billion dollars were spent on health tourism in 2012. This trend is expected to continue – and to expand.
For the fourth year in a row, during 26-27 November, Iran hosted the 4th Conference on Health Tourism in Islamic Countries in the holy city of Mashhad. With its strong and effective health infrastructure, built in recent decades, the country is now considering making this infrastructure available as a health tourism destination. The focus of this year’s meeting was accreditation and insurance.
The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Gary Lewis, was invited to speak at the opening session which was presided over by Vice-President, Dr. Ali Najafi, who is also Head of the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization. Other speakers included Dr. Alireza Zali, Head of Medical Council Organization, Dr. M.H. Niknam, Professor of Immunology and Senior Adviser to the Minister of Health who delivered a message on behalf of the Minister of Health.
In his speech, Mr. Lewis noted that there were essentially two categories of patients who travel abroad for medical care. The first are those who travel to other countries to seek medical services that are not available in their own home countries. The second are those who seek medical care in other countries, even though they can get such services in their own countries. They do this because they can get comparable services at lower prices.
The first category includes those seeking humanitarian assistance. The second category falls under the definition of health tourism.
Mr. Lewis praised Iran’s effort for shouldering the burden of millions of refugees for over three decades, including providing them with health care at subsidized rates. He noted that recently, in collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency, the Government has been ensuring that refugees are provided with health insurance.
On the subject of heath tourism, he noted the opportunities which Iran possesses for moving towards health tourism. Based on the experience of other countries, he warned, however, that “care must be taken to avoid the diversion of care and treatment away from domestic citizens towards international clients – care must be taken to prevent the escalation of health costs as a result – [and] care must be taken to avoid the commercialization of the doctor-patient relationship.”
The meeting was held in the Razavi Hospital in Mashad. Most of the delegates were representatives from a number of countries from the Organization of Islamic Conference.