Medical Tourism
Obesity cure lures foreigners to India
May 3, 2006 - 12:53:37 AM

Christine is a Canadian, Amir a Bangladesh-born American and Hardeep a Sikh from the US. What binds them is their desperation to get freedom from those extra pounds through much cheaper surgery in Indian metros.

They do not want to be anorexic but are desperate nevertheless to rid themselves of their obesity and lead a better life.

Obese people across the world are flooding the email box of noted laparoscopic surgeons such as B. Ramana in Kolkata for dates to undergo operations. Kolkata is considered one of the emerging medical tourism destinations in India.

"I am looking for a hospital that does good quality, affordable laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery. Please tell me if this is possible in your hospital," asks Christine.

Amir says: "I have minor diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and I weigh 360 lbs. I have to urinate three to five times at night. I wake up in the middle of the night due to breathlessness. My family has a history of obesity."

Said Ramana: "There is a previously unrecognised need for morbidly obese patients to undergo surgery to reduce weight. We call it bariatric surgery and it is the only proven way to achieve major weigh loss and sustain it.

"Because there is a long queue for such operations abroad and because it is far economical here, we are flooded with queries from abroad for operation dates in India."

He says the international demand for such surgery was very high, adding that he received email and telephonic enquiries every other day. "Many of these patients expect a package deal with a vacation and pick up.

"In this new development of laparoscopic bariatric surgery, there are many procedures that we use. In one type of procedure, the capacity of the stomach to take food is drastically reduced," says the surgeon.

"We insert a silicon band just beneath the junction of the food pipe and the stomach. There is another procedure called a 'sleeve gastrectomy', whereby 60 percent of the stomach is removed and the shape of the stomach is changed to a tubular organ," explains Ramana.

"In another type of operation, the capacity of the stomach is severely reduced (20-25 cc) and its ability to digest food is severely impaired, by bypassing the major portion of the digestive tract. This is called 'Gastric Bypass', which is now considered to be the gold standard in bariatric operations."

According to him, these procedures are common in the West and are gradually picking up in India, with the increase in awareness about the problem.

"We are confident that this trend is going to be big in the coming days," Ramana told IANS in an interview.

During the past 20 years, obesity among adults has risen significantly in the US. The latest data from the National Centre for Health Statistics show that 30 percent of adults there, accounting for over 60 million people, are obese.

India itself is one of the top 10 obese nations, according to WHO.

Traditional tourist spots still attract foreigners by the hordes to India, but lately, medical tourism is proving to be one of the most lucrative and viable options.

About 150,000 "medical tourists" visit the country on average and their number is expected to soar every year. A research by international consultancy major McKinsey revealed that the medical tourism industry in the country was growing by 30 percent every year.

It further observed that if medical tourism were to touch 25 percent of the private upmarket players, it would boost revenue.

"Obesity cure by operations in India can form a major chunk of our medical tourism revenues in future," Ramana added.

With globally recognised healthcare professionals, holistic medicinal services and low cost treatment, India can earn $5 billion a year and attract over one million health tourists a year, says the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

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