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Reason patients are rushing to India for surgery



By Judith Gicobi

When Juan Francisco Paladines began to see double, he realized something was not right.

His symptoms, which began ten years ago and included double vision, were diagnosed as being triggered by a brain tumor by doctors.

“It was a very tough moment in my life. Fortunately, I have many friends and family that were my backbone,” explains the 56-year-old Chilean industrial engineer.

Surgeons warned him that because of the tumor’s peculiar structure, it would be impossible to totally remove it. His symptoms went disappeared following a round of radiation therapy.

Scans over the next four years revealed that the tumor had stopped growing. “It all went well. I forgot about the whole business,” he says.

Unfortunately, in 2019, the double vision reappeared. “I knew what it was… I started to look for alternatives to the radiation therapy.”

In recent years, a new cancer treatment known as proton beam therapy has emerged, which is a type of radiation treatment intended to eliminate malignant tumors.

Instead of high-energy x-rays, it uses a beam of high-energy protons, which are minuscule atom components.

On their journey to the tumor, proton beams easily travel through the body and are quite effective in destroying it once they arrive.

Proton beam treatment is effective for treating delicate parts of the body, such as the brain, neck, and spine, because they can be targeted very accurately.

Mr. Paladines determined after some investigation that this was the treatment for him. However, proton beam therapy was not available in Chile or any of its neighboring countries.

“I did extensive research to find hospitals from different countries, who could provide proton treatment,” he explains.

Many solutions were either too costly or unsuitable for him. However, he eventually discovered the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, India.

“It has state of the art technology, at very affordable prices compared to western countries,” he says.

In addition, the hospital assisted him in securing lodging and transportation for his trip in November 2021.

“These factors play a very important role mentally. I was miles away from home with fear, in a new country, a completely different culture and language,” Mr Paladines explains.

Mr Paladines is one of the thousands of people who travel to India for medical treatment each year.

The number of international patients visiting India climbed from 430,000 to 700,000 between 2016 and 2019. By 2019, the industry is expected to be valued $9 billion (£6.7 billion).

However, travel restrictions during the pandemic nearly brought the industry to a halt. According to the Ministry of Tourism, about 183,000 tourists came to the country for medical reasons in 2021, a 73 percent decrease from 2019.

The situation is comparable everywhere in the world, especially in countries where medical tourism is prevalent, such as Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Dinesh Madhavan, President of Group Oncology at International Apollo Hospital Enterprises, adds, “India has the largest pool of clinicians in South Asia,”

“We are uniquely positioned thanks to our hospitality and rich culture, combined with modern as well as traditional medicine and therapy,” he says.

It’s not just for medical issues like cancer, either. Patients seeking cosmetic surgery procedures such as liposuction (fat removal) or hair grafts for baldness have also increased dramatically in India.

“We get patients from the United States, Africa, and the Gulf,” says Mumbai dermatologist and skin surgeon Dr Satish Bhatia. Most airline staff seek rapid, non-invasive cosmetic procedures like dermal fillers or Botox, according to Dr. Bhatia.

According to Dr. Bhatia, the cost of most cosmetic treatments in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East is at least 50% greater than in India.

Medical tourism, like much travel, came to a standstill during the pandemic, but Dr. Bhatia believes business is starting up again and that he is optimistic that it will keep increasing.