With the economy growing substantially over the last 20 years, Bangladesh has become a major contributor to the Thai medical tourism sector.
The data can be seen in a visualized statistic published by the Visual Capitalist with data from the IMF.
About 4,300 Bangladeshi citizens contributed some 6.7 billion Thai baht to the economy of Thailand in 2019, according to sources of Ministries of Tourism and Sports, said a Thai diplomat in Dhaka recently.
According to sources, 85% of total outbound Bangladeshi patients get treatment in India, some 10% in Thailand and the rest in Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, USA and China.
According to Thai immigration, a total of 139,622 Bangladeshi tourists visited Thailand in the last few years, including 21,817 in 2020, 1,955 in 2021 and 6,319 during January-June period of 2022.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 restricted movement of travelers across the globe during 2020, 2021 and in the early 2022.
The number of Bangladeshi tourists dropped in 2020 and 2021 and started picking up this year slightly.
Thailand expects tourist numbers to more than triple to nearly 1 million per month from October as the nation lifts most of the pandemic-era travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh can replicate the model of medical tourism like countries of India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in the mid-and long-term by ensuring some steps like improvement in nursing, extensive, rigorous and higher hands-on training of doctors, good behavior of the persons engaged in health services and better hospital services, opined experts.
Director General of Center on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) Dr Cherdsak Virapat, also a Thai citizen, got his surgery successfully at The United hospital recently.
He praised the health system of the hospital and the quality of Bangladeshi physicians.
While sharing the success of medical tourism in Thailand, Thai Trade Counselor in Dhaka Khemathat Archawathamrong said that Bangladesh can also be successful in the sector through improving nursing and ensuring dedication of its physicians towards their patients.
Former regional advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) Muzaherul Huq said that Bangladesh can develop medical tourism targeting citizens of Northeast India and Nepal.
Muzaherul Huq, also former senior advisor to the World Federation for Medical Education, said that Bangladesh will have to set up international standard hospitals in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong to help boost medical tourism.
Huq, however, said that Bangladesh will have to ensure an international standard quality health system and service to patients.
Bangladeshi patients usually go to Chennai, Vellore, Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi to avail better treatment.
Huq who worked in Kathmandu during his medical career said that Nepal has improved medical tourism in recent years targeting Indian tourism.
Bangladesh has the largest sea beach in Cox’s Bazar. Patients will come to get treatment and see the beauty of the beach. Against this backdrop, Bangladesh will have to improve local and tourism and health systems, he added.
Meanwhile, though Bangladeshis spend several billion US dollars every year on treatment abroad, the central bank statistics show peanuts of that medical tourism, according to economists, policy-makers, bankers and physicians.
The banking and income tax systems of the country need an overhaul to help estimate the cost of medical tourism abroad, said a former member of National Board of Revenue (NBR).
Md Serajul Islam, executive director of Bangladesh Bank, said that Bangladeshis spent abroad $2.2 million in FY19, $1.6 million FY20, $1.6 million in FY21 and $0.5 million during the July-September period of the current FY23 while taking treatment abroad.
The treatment cost in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are 4/5 times higher than it is in Bangladesh. Even treatment costs in major Indian cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai are also expensive.
Though reliable and proper statistics are unavailable, entrepreneurs of the country have invested nearly Tk200,000 crore in the health sector during the last 20 years,” said Dr Abu M Shamim, managing director of Labaid Cardiac Hospital.
The yearly turnover of these hospitals is hovering around Tk150,000 crore. Each hospital has over 100 beds. Some 50,000 physicians and 1.1 million health workers employed in these hospitals are rendering the best possible health services to thousands of patients, he claimed.
The country in the last 15-20 years has witnessed setting up of some posh and high-end 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 and some 200 mid-level hospitals.
The cost of open heart surgery in Bangladesh hovers Tk 2-3 lakh in Bangladesh, the same treatment costs Tk10-25 lakh in Singapore.
Under the existing rules of Bangladesh Bank, a person can carry up to $10,000 on medical purposes without needing central bank permission while going abroad.
Dr Syed Abdul Hamid, a professor at the Institute of Health Economics of the University of Dhaka, while talking to Dhaka Tribune, said that data of Bangladesh Bank on treatment cost abroad is very low compared to the patients and their relatives spend in reality.
“Foreign missions in Dhaka can provide data on medical visas to authorities concerned of Bangladesh that, in turn, can help prepare a sound paper on medical tourism abroad,” he also said.
Mahbub Ahmed, a former secretary of the government, told Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh Bank, National Board of Revenue (NBR), commercial banks, BIDS, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and research institutes can do work on emulating the global medical tourism mechanism .
Meanwhile, the High Commission of India issued over 2.50 million visas in 2019 to Bangladeshis a year before the corona pandemic hit the world.
Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, also a popular destination of medical tourism, issue over three hundred visas to Bangladeshis per year, including a good number of that is medical visa.
Sources said some 20-25% Bangladeshis, who visit neighboring India every year, are medical tourists.