Maldives lays ground work for medical tourism

Medical tourism — where patients struggling to afford or find the right treatment at home head overseas — is booming across the globe, with many countries jostling to offer high quality healthcare at reasonable and affordable prices. For instance, around 900,000 Americans travelled overseas for treatment in 2013, according to Patients Beyond Borders, a provider of medical travel information.

However, medical tourism is not the preserve of the developed world; around eight million patients from across the world seek overseas treatment each year, contributing to a global industry worth USD24-USD40 billion, says Patients Beyond Borders.

Maldivians are particularly familiar with medical tourism as majority of outbound travel from the Maldives amount to those who travel abroad for medical treatment. With lack of advanced health facilities in the country, Maldivians frequent hospitals in neighbouring India and Sri Lanka, and has recently started going to South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand as well.

But Maldives is about to turn the tables on medical tourism. With its first world-class hospital coming up in the satellite town of Hulhumale, the country is on track to welcome medical tourists from the world over in a few years.

Set to open in August, the Tree Top Hospital will provide countless world-class health services, including open heart surgery for the first time in the Maldives. The 200-bed multi-speciality hospital will be fully automated, and will be equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and facilities such as the latest advancements in MRI.

The hospital, which will be managed by Malaysia-based Sime Darby Group and Ramsay Health Care Group of Australia, is a USD90 million investment by Tree Top Investments, a joint venture by Casa Holdings, Champa Brothers and Kuredu Holdings. The companies involved in this venture are owned and backed by pioneers of the Maldives tourism industry and leading hoteliers, positioning Tree Top Hospital in the direction of medical tourism.

“After three or four years, we will be all set to court medical tourists,” Ahmed Saleem, one of the shareholders of the hospital, told local media after a tour of the six-storey building on Sunday.

More than a million tourists visit the Maldives every year to holiday in the island paradise, which is known for its white sand beaches and unique natural beauty. But tourism in the Maldives is currently limited to some 160 island resorts developed exclusively for a luxury vacation experience or to one of the guesthouses in a local island.

With the opening of Tree Top Hospital, the number of locals having to travel abroad to obtain specialised medical care will be significantly reduced, saving considerably on increasing medical expenses. But the most significant aspect of this ambitious venture will be the introduction of medical tourism in the Maldives — a new segment to the world-renowned tourism industry of the Maldives.

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