Coronavirus gives kiss of death to once flourishing medical tourism in Mashhad

August 1, 2020 - 21:0

TEHRAN- While the developing health tourism industry, which is one of the most important fields of Iran’s travel sector, was trying to prove its capabilities and capacities in attracting medical and health tourists to the country, the global coronavirus pandemic put a sudden stop to everything.

Many domestic experts believe that medical tourism in Iran is a win-win opportunity both for the country and foreign patients, as they are offered affordable yet quality treatment services and the country gains considerable foreign currency, however, all forecasts and preparations in this field have changed.

After Tehran, Mashhad has the most medical tourists in the country, but the coronavirus outbreak has cut the number of travelers visiting the city for medical purposes by 95 percent over the past few months, IRNA reported on Saturday.

Iran is one of the major destinations for health tourism in the region, and patients with 55 different nationalities, mostly from neighboring countries including Iraq,  Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are seeking to use Iran’s services and facilities in this field, the report added.

Last month, Esmaeil Khayyami, the health tourism manager of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, announced that due to the travel restrictions imposed by Iran and neighboring countries, the number of medical and health tourists visiting medical centers and hospitals in Mashhad has decreased significantly and new admission of non-emergency foreign patients hasn’t been done.

For the time being, 14 hospitals and three medical centers are offering special services to foreign patients in Mashhad, who are mostly visiting these centers for Open-heart surgeries, vascular surgeries, general surgeries, orthopedics, skin, hair and beauty services, dental services, as well as women’s and infertility services.

But according to the managers of some of these hospitals, the number of health tourists visiting these centers has dwindled to zero.

Iranian hospitals admitted nearly 70,000 foreign patients over the Iranian calendar year 1397 (March 2018 – March 2019) and it made an economic contribution of around $1.2 billion to the country, according to the medical tourism department at the Ministry of Health.

In April 2018, the rotating presidency of the International Health Tourism Conference of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) was handed to the Islamic Republic for a three-year term.

Mohammad Jahangiri who presides over a national center for developing health tourism said in May 2018 that Iran has the capacity to annually earn $7 billion in medical and health tourism, though the sector now brings in only one-seventh or even lesser of the sum.

The Islamic Republic has set its goals to exceed its yearly medical travelers to around 2 million in [calendar year] 1404.

Before the coronavirus puts everything on lockdown, Mashhad played host to thousands of travelers and pilgrims who come from various Iranian cities, neighboring countries, and even across the globe to visit the imposing, massive holy shrine complex of Imam Reza (AS), the eighth Imam of the Shia Muslims.

Almost 40 million Iranian pilgrims and travelers visited the shrine city of Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Razavi province, during the last Iranian calendar year (ended March 19).


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