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Medical tourism plan for Cyprus

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Medical tourism plan for Cyprus

Postby Sotos » Sun Dec 04, 2005 11:25 am

‘Brazil has developed a tradition for plastic surgery, Russia is well known for its kidney transplants and Thailand for its sex changes’

FOREIGNERS wanting to have medical treatment abroad may need look no further than Cyprus if a proposal to turn the island into a regional centre for health services materialises.

The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce (KEVE) yesterday held the first of what it promised to be many conferences to discuss tapping into the highly lucrative market of medical tourism which would allow the island to develop its image of being more than just a sun and sea destination.

The initiative, which has the backing of the Commerce and Health Ministries, the Medical Association and the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO), aims to find how best to promote the island as a competitive alternative for patients seeking treatment beyond their own home countries.

Doctors, Ministry officials and Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) representatives attended the half-day conference at Nicosia’s Hilton Park Hotel.

Three guest speakers from Greece, including two University professors and a management consultant, Bank of Cyprus (BoC) Oncology Centre chief executive Alecos Stamatis, Medical Association President Dr Antonis Vassiliou and a panel of doctors outlined ways in which the island could take advantage of its natural resources and how to improve existing services to capitalise on what is becoming a fast growing market.

Medical tourism is a term that refers to an industry where people from around the world travel to other countries to obtain medical, dental, and surgical care while at the same time touring, holidaying, and fully experiencing the attractions of the countries that they are visiting, the experts explained. Alternative spa treatments such as hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy are additional health tourism, rather than medical, options, the participants heard.

Countless options exist for medical tourists – from purely elective procedures such as rhinoplasty, liposuction, breast augmentation, and orthodontics, to more serious and life-saving procedures such as joint replacements, bone marrow transplants, and cardiac bypass surgery.

Meanwhile the potential for boosting tourism figures was huge as patients rarely travelled alone and were accompanied by more than one family member, said kidney expert, Dr Michalis Hadjigavriel.

Countries that actively promote medical tourism include among others Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, India, Israel, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Thailand and India.

According to Vassiliou a large portion of these countries were now starting to focus on one area of medical expertise. “Brazil has developed a tradition for plastic surgery, Russia is well known for its kidney transplants and Thailand for its sex changes,” he said.

Stamatis pointed out the reasons patients travelled for treatment varied. Faith in accredited foreign healthcare systems, long waiting lists in their own home countries, cheaper treatment costs and a change of climate were but a few.

“Although Cyprus is not a cheap tourist destination, medical treatments are often cheaper here than in other countries and patients want to combine it with a holiday while they recuperate,” he said.

Vassiliou added that clinic beds were five times cheaper in Cyprus than the UK and three times cheaper than Greece. Meanwhile medical association vice president Nicholas Christodoulou said doctors in Cyprus had trained throughout Europe giving them the fluency to converse with a large nationality of patients. The fact that all doctors, nurses and members of the public spoke English was also a bonus, he said.

However, although the island’s ideal geographic location, which bridged Europe with the Middle East, its excellent weather conditions, superior medical staff and good infrastructure were all positive factors that needed to be taken advantage of, the experts pointed out a number of issues still needed to be addressed if the conference’s vision was to become a reality.

Greater cooperation between the state health services, private sector and tourism industry, a greater focus on winter tourism so that tourists visiting seaside resorts didn’t feel they were visiting a ghost town, promoting medical care holiday packages abroad and the implementation of an effective national health scheme were but a few.

Stamatis also suggested healthcare institutions upgraded their services by seeking accreditation from foreign accreditation organisations such as the UK’s Health Quality Service or the US’ Joint Commission International which would improve its procedures and systems and give them more weight with foreigners. Building a medical school would also do much to raise the island’s profile as a hub for medical services as patients often chose University hospitals to undergo life-saving treatments.

He added: “There are also a large number of doctors that live and work abroad, who could be enticed to move home if the island became a recognised regional centre for medical services.”

Although yesterday’s conference had no immediate outcome, KEVE President Vassilis Rologis promised it would be one of many to ensure an effective plan of action was put into place. CTO chairman Photis Photiou also suggested setting up a committee responsible for monitoring and promoting medical tourism and said he was confident this goal could and would be achieved.
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