The growing number of people going outside for medical treatment has encouraged international hospital chains in joining hands with local partners to expand their businesses and bring their high quality services here.
At least seven local firms in collaboration with hospital chains, such as Apollo, Evercare, Green Hospital Supply of Japan, and Thonburi Healthcare Group of Thailand, have already begun the process to set up world-class healthcare facilities in Dhaka and Chattogram with Tk5,000 crore in investments, say industry insiders.
Such joint venture initiatives will add around 3,000 more beds to the existing 95,000 beds in private hospitals alongside creating 15,000 job opportunities, they add.
Annually, thousands of Bangladeshis go abroad for medical treatment. India tops the list of medical tourism destinations followed by other countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and the UAE.
According to the Bangladesh Bank, Bangladeshis spent $2.2 million in FY19, $1.6 million in FY20, $1.6 million in FY21, and $0.5 million during the July-September period of the current FY23 for treatment abroad.
Around 700,000 Bangladeshis travel overseas for medical care each year.
During the 2017-2021 period, Bangladesh was the second highest tourist-sourcing country for India with 15.75% of the total number of foreign nationals visiting India being Bangladeshis, according to the Indian tourism ministry.
In 2021, 24 lakh Bangladeshis visited India, of which 77.6% went there for medical purposes.
Foreign logistics and technical support
Local partners say they will mainly take logistics and technical support from foreign hospitals to increase their capacity to provide patients with quality services.
Countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey had also shown their interest in building hospitals in Bangladesh before the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is no visible progress yet.
Japan International Cancer Hospital and Research Centre
Japan-based healthcare group Green Hospital Supply in partnership with Jica and local Aichi Medical Group has plans for a 1,000-bed hospital named Japan International Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Purbachal, Dhaka by 2026.
Dr Moazzem Hossain, chairman of Aichi Medical Group of Bangladesh, told The Business Standard, “We have already got 6 bighas of land from the government to build the hospital. The estimated investment stands at Tk2,500 crore.”
The hospital will also create jobs for 5,000 people, he noted.
“We want to offer services that are either not available or limited in our country. For example, we will introduce proton therapy that currently only exists in Singapore among Asian countries,” he added.
Ship International Hospital
The same healthcare entrepreneurs partially launched the 650-bed Ship International Hospital at Turag in Dhaka last August with its commitment to provide “world-class medical services in Bangladesh with advanced Japanese technology and experienced and specialised doctors”.
The hospital has been built with an investment of Tk600 crore – 50.5% of that from Green Hospital Supply of Japan, 34.5% from Aichi Medical Group and 15% from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Now, the multi-specialised private hospital has 320 beds, including ICU, CCU, HDU, and NICU facilities, said Dr Moazzem Hossain, also managing director of the hospital.
The hospital has generated 496 jobs that will increase to 2,000 once all its departments start functioning, he noted, adding, “At present, we have 10 foreign doctors and nurses.”
Dr Moazzem also said, “We have taken an initiative to introduce robotic surgery.”
Meanwhile, Japanese investment is coming to set up Madina Aichi Dental Services in collaboration with the Update Dental College Hospital in Dhaka by January 2023.
Chennai-based Apollo, Ctg Imperial join hands
To catch this large number of patients going abroad, Chennai-based healthcare group Apollo Hospitals has signed an agreement with Imperial Hospital Limited, Chattogram, to operate and manage the 375-bed Apollo Imperial Hospital.
“We have started preparations to serve jointly from next January,” Prof Rabiul Husain, chairman of Imperial Hospital Chittagong, told TBS.
Regarding the lack of quality doctors despite the establishment of foreign hospitals in Bangladesh, he said, “There are good doctors in our country, but not in enough numbers. That’s why we are planning to bring doctors from abroad.
“But bringing physicians from abroad to provide health services in Bangladesh is very costly. Therefore, we are giving importance to building the capacity of our doctors and other staff by training them with foreign doctors.
“It is not easy for some patients to travel abroad. Our hospital will help these patients.”
Apollo will get a fixed management fee and a share of the overall revenue by operating the hospital in Chattogram.
The 10-year contract, which is auto-renewable, is expected to provide secondary and some tertiary care.
The hospital chain has branches in 25 countries including the UK, Mauritius, Egypt, Barbados, Vietnam, Fiji Island, Bahrain, and Nigeria.
Hospital for Society with Thailand’s Thonburi Healthcare
Meanwhile, Thonburi Healthcare Group based in Thailand is preparing to help Bangladesh develop a “Hospital for Society” in cooperation with Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus, Bangkok Post reported recently.
Thonburi Healthcare will help to install information technology and operational systems at a Bangladesh hospital with 500 beds.
US-Bangla Group’s search for international partner
US-Bangla Group also has taken the initiative to launch a hospital in Dhaka, to be located at Purbachal.
US-Bangla Airlines General Manager (Public Relations) Md Kamrul Islam told TBS, “Project development work is underway to build an international quality chain hospital in Purbachal. Talks are being held with several chain hospitals in India, but no final agreement has been reached with any of them yet.”
The groundwork is going on right now, he said, adding, “Hopefully, the hospital will take shape within the next three years.”
Evercare Hospital Chattogram launched
The Evercare Group announced the official inauguration of its latest venture, Evercare Hospital Chattogram – the first-ever multispecialty tertiary care hospital in the port city on 10 October.
Evercare Hospital Chattogram features 470 beds, a fully equipped 24/7 emergency department, state-of-the-art intensive care units, and 27 specialties and subspecialties, which will fill in the capacity gaps in the region.
Hope for better treatment
In Bangladesh, more than 65% of patients receive healthcare services in private facilities. But the quality of the private hospitals is questionable. Patients are often cheated while seeking services in unauthorised hospitals. The health directorate frequently conducts drives against such unlicensed hospitals.
In such a situation, experts believe that if high class foreign hospital chains come to Bangladesh, patients will get quality services.
Dr Syed Abdul Hamid, professor of the Institute of Health Economics, Dhaka University, told TBS, “If the big private hospitals of different countries open their branches in Bangladesh, huge investments will be there, technology transfer will take place, doctors and nurses of our country will have job opportunities. Besides, our patients will be able to receive treatment in a better environment. Critical patients who cannot go abroad will be able to get treatment in these hospitals.”
But still, there is some doubt whether these private hospital branches will be able to play much of a role in reducing outbound travel for healthcare right away because most of the patients of the country go abroad for treatment as there is a crisis of trust in local facilities.
“Patients go abroad for various reasons including rude behaviour of doctors, dissatisfaction with the quality of tests, and high cost of treatment in the country. If these chain hospitals gain the trust of the patients, maybe foreign trips will decrease,” he added.
He also recommended that there should be government directives to establish foreign chain hospitals outside Dhaka instead of concentrating in Dhaka.
If these hospitals are set up outside Dhaka, the suffering and cost of treatment for patients will come down and the people living outside the capital, especially in the border areas, will feel less inclined to go abroad for treatment, he observed.
Sixty-seven percent of the total deaths in Bangladesh are from Non-communicable diseases.
Different types of non-communicable diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), and kidney disease are increasing in the country, facilities to treat these diseases are inadequate as are the diagnosis facilities.
MA Mubin Khan, president of the Bangladesh Private Medical College Association, told TBS that Bangladesh needs many more world-class hospitals for its 180 million people.
More chain hospitals will create competition among local hospitals to improve quality, he added.
No progress in establishing foreign hospitals by some countries
In 2020, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia showed interest in investing in the health sector in Bangladesh.
Saudi company Engineering Dimension and China Machinery Engineering Corporation put forward proposals to build hospitals here.
But sources at the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) told TBS that these proposals have achieved little progress even in two years.
Md Sirazul Islam, former executive chairman of Bida, told said, “The issue of Chinese investment was discussed with the health ministry. The ministry after holding some meetings with the Chinese side told us to look into it. But, the Chinese side did not show any more interest after that.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s Engineering Dimension wants to enter a joint venture with the government, he added.
4 lakh tourist go on medical tours to South Asian countries each year
Bangladeshi medical tourists go to India in the highest numbers. The High Commission of India issued over 2.50 million visas in 2019 to Bangladeshis. Data provided by the tourism ministry of India show that 23.6% of total foreign tourists who went to India in 2009 for healthcare were from Bangladesh and the ratio surged to 57.5% in 2019. An estimated 4,25,000 patients seek treatment in various South Asian countries each year.