The economies of the Middle East are largely dependent on oil revenues. In a bid to wrangle out of this dependency, countries like Qatar and the UAE are looking into various avenues, one of them being healthcare. Chinese medical tourists are being seen as an attractive market.
Attracting Chinese medical tourists
Despite achieving tremendous economic growth over the past decades, the medical system in China has been plagued by several problems. For one, the huge population constantly keeps the healthcare system overburdened. Secondly, many of the hospitals are really not up to the mark, failing to achieve international standards. And finally, some medical treatments are not available in the country.
Due to these issues, many Chinese opt to travel abroad to resolve their health conditions. Traditionally, places like the U.S., Japan, Thailand, and Singapore have been the first choice of Chinese medical tourists. Now the UAE and Qatar want to cash in on this lucrative demand.
“We have already seen a steady influx of patients who previously went to the European Union for treatment… The next step is partnerships with Chinese medical institutions and health care providers,” Shujahat Shah, an international health consultant at Sidra Medicine in Qatar, said to South China Morning Post.
In 2017, Qatar announced visa-free travel for Chinese citizens. This had an immediate positive effect. While the overall number of tourists declined in the first half of this year, the number of visitors from China has risen by 30 percent.
The UAE set up its Healthcare City way back in 2002. At present, the area has more than 150 clinical partnerships. To tap into the Chinese market, Healthcare City has planned a partnership with a company from Macau to offer traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Estimates for outbound Chinese medical tourists range from 500,000 to 3 million. The figures are expected to climb over the coming years and the Middle East is preparing to welcome Chinese medical tourists.
Spread of TCM
China is aggressively promoting TCM on the global stage. In a recent tourism forum in Beijing, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies announced that they would set up a committee to spread TCM health tourism worldwide.
China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine released a document in 2016 that details plans for setting up 10 demonstration zones and 100 demonstration bases of TCM Health Tourism.
In Hong Kong, plans for setting up the first Chinese medicine hospital is underway. Expected to launch by 2024, the 400-bed hospital is poised to be a “flagship Chinese medicine institution.”
“It is not purely a hospital which provides service, but one which leads the development of Chinese medicine sector in Hong Kong,” Dr. Cheung Wai-lun, project director of the Food and Health Bureau’s Chinese Medicine Hospital Project Office, said in a statement (South China Morning Post).
Next year, the WHO’s governing body, the World Health Assembly, will adopt the 11th version of its global compendium, also known as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). For the first time in history, ICD will include details of traditional medical practices, including TCM.
This is expected to speed up the proliferation of the TCM health industry worldwide, making it an integral part of the global medical infrastructure. Over the past three years, TCM centers have been set up in over two dozen countries, including places like Dubai, Barcelona, and Budapest. With ICD inclusion, TCM centers are poised for explosive growth in the future.