Pak-Sino Health Tourism: A Win-Win Model for CPEC

“If the “Belt and Road” are likened to the two wings of a soaring Asia, then connectivity is like arteries and veins.” – Xi Jinping

China’s ambitious plan to stabilize its western periphery through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has at its core the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China’s progress-solidity nexus epitomizes one of the main drivers behind CPEC. CPEC is a framework of geographical connectivity linked through the BRI, which is not for the benefit of China and Pakistan but for all the countries involved in the initiative and anticipated to provide regional development, economic growth and peace through win-win model. Moreover, the project is expected to create at least 700,000 direct jobs and serve as a springboard for the development of industries such as retail, education, health and tourism etc.By the start of this century, world is rapidly progressing toward globalization. The globalization of healthcare has also given rise to an innovative trend called “Health Tourism”. It’s also called “Healthcare Globalization” or “Health Vacation”. Whatever you name it, health tourism is mounting and diversifying on a global level and the global health tourism market was valued at $15.5 billion in 2017, and is estimated to reach at $28.8 billion by 2024 and Asian health tourism market is anticipated to cross $14 billion mark by 2022. Health tourism is a swiftly evolving trend and the fastest growing sector not only, in developed nations but also, in developing nations. Health tourism is becoming a worldwide, multi billion-dollar industry and recent trend illustrate that people from developed countries are traveling to developing countries for affordable healthcare.In the last decade, the perception of well being has gone further than ever before,thus, health tourism has emerged as an industry, where people travel often long distances to overseas countries to obtain medical, dental and surgical care while at the same time being holidaymakers. The phenomenon has developed significantly in recent years mainly due to the high cost of treatment and long waiting list in developed countries.

Health tourism has grown in a number of nation-states especially in Asian states. The chief regions in Asia are Thailand, India, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. Thailand accounts for maximum share of the Asian health tourism market, being followed by India and Singapore.Likewise, based on the Sixth Economic Development Plan (2017-2022), Iran is projected to attract 600,000 health tourist every year with ultimate goal to earn $25 billion a year through tourism by 2025, around $2.5 billion of which will come from health tourism. Health tourism has also boomed on the Chinese mainland over the past few years and China is fast emerging as a desirable destination for seeking medical care. American, European and Canadian patients favor India, Thailand and Malaysia.Thailand became famous as destination for health tourism as early as the 1970s because it specialized in sex change operations, and later moved into cosmetic surgery. Currently, Thailand is home to an ever-increasing number of cosmetic surgery and related services providers including liposuction, face lifts and anti-ageing treatments. In India, heart-related diseases and organ transplantation are being treated at outstanding facilities at rates that are competitive globally. In all these cases, the low cost of quality healthcare services is a major driving force behind the rising trend of health tourism to these destinations.Malaysia became involved in health tourism industry after 1998 and now emerging as a major destination for those seeking knee cap replacement, spinal fusion and other joint-related surgeries and medical procedures.Dubai also has built Healthcare City (DHCC) to capture the Middle Eastern market and divert it from Asia. The DHCC, “the world’s first healthcare free zone” strategically located between Asia and Europe is a highly regulated institution that aims to provide high-quality healthcare, medical education and research in region.

Health tourism is probable to increase even faster in the future and the number of countries seeking to develop health tourism industry as it is an emerging global industry. CPEC could play a key role in mutual cooperation between Chinese and Pakistani health tourism industries.  If health tourism model comes to fulfillment, the multi-billion dollar industry may drive even greater change to both states.Pakistan has a huge potential to become a regional health tourism hub like other neighboring countries as Pakistan is rich in doctors and technical staff of international reputation in their respective fields.In near future Pakistan may have potential to develop health tourism if the coordination between Ministry of National Health Services & Regulations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Tourism/Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) be established.It is also fact, health infrastructure in Pakistan is much below expectations and international standers due to poor health governance, lack of health financing, lack of centralized health policy and corruption in health sector.In this regard, the Government of Pakistan and policy makers may instantaneously act on the following recommendations:

  • Devise the health tourism based health policy and clear position to health tourism as the new axis. Produce policy papers on subjects arising in health tourism.
  • Integrate a health perspective into tourism policy and create an information platform for health tourism.
  • Establish the coordinating office for health tourism to highlight the connection between health, social and economic development.
  • Start a health tourist visa category and reduce the brain drain phenomenon within the country.
  • Continue its efforts to strengthen good governance including health governance, with emphasis on merit based institutional development and the rule of law. And, exceptionally eliminate corruption and nepotism from the society.
About Mirza Abdul Aleem Baig 17 Articles
Mirza Abdul Aleem Baig is CAS-TWAS President’s Fellow at USTC, Biomedical Health Informatics Professional and freelance Science Writer.