Hospital Fire Casts Shadow on India Medical Tourism
The fire swept through AMRI, a 180-bed, state-of-the-art facility regarded as one of the best hospitals in India. There were no exit doors or evacuation plan, the windows were sealed, and the local fire department took more than 90 minutes to arrive. Trapped, many of the patients died from smoke inhalation, according to a report in Christian Science Monitor. Most died in their beds, unable to escape the inferno that raged for hours. Residents living in the neighborhood accused the hospital guards of not taking any measures to control the fire and of even preventing others from rushing to the rescue of the victims who were abandoned by the hospital staff. The hospital is known to attract many foreign patients. However, it's too early to tell if any foreigners died in the blaze because most of the charred remains have yet to be identified.
“Large numbers of hospitals are coming up in a big way across India. What we need to look into when issuing the licenses for running the hospitals is that building construction has complied to safety building codes and a safety plan is in place in case of fire,” said Dr. Muzzafer Ahmed, a member of the country's National Disaster Management Authority, speaking to the media.
Though Indians remain among the most under-served in the world in terms of health care, growing for-profit Indian hospital industry has been promoting itself as an inexpensive alternative to high-cost surgery in the United States and Europe. There are a large number of foreign-trained highly-skilled physicians and surgeons in India. And the heart bypass surgery that costs $6,000 in India costs more than $20,000 in the US, according to Yaleglobal. There are similar deep discounts available for joint replacement, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and surrogate mothers' womb rental services.
Many Indians are expecting exponential growth in foreign demand to take advantage of the opportunity to combine medical treatment with vacations at significantly lower costs. "With health care costs going north," says Dr Alok Roy of Fortis Hospital, one of the leading service providers in the medical tourism sector, "patients are compelled to look at cost-effective destinations for medical treatments. And what could be better if they can combine that with sightseeing at scenic locations?"
The safety concerns about India go beyond the fear of being burned in a fire. Other major concerns include:
1. Fake pharmaceuticals are a big worry. In fact, 75 percent of counterfeit drugs supplied world over have origins in India, according to a report released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
2. Lack of proper hygiene contributes to a large number of infections in hospital settings. A recent investigation into the death of 13 women in a Rajasthan hospital found that the poor hygiene standard in the hospital were flagrantly overlooked, according to Times of India.
Will the latest incident at AMRI in Kolkatta, combined with general concerns about unhygienic practices and widespread use of fake pharmaceuticals, hurt India's efforts at growing its medical tourism industry? The short answer is yes. However, the growth prospects could improve in the future when the Indian government and the hospital industry begin to improve the safety situation to regain the trust of prospective foreign customers.
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