Thursday, July 31, 2008

Malaysia joins cream of the crop in health destination

It seems that Malaysia never relents in its efforts to attract foreign tourists. After its success in promoting the country's beauty through the "Truly Asia" campaign, now it is trying to increase its foreign income by netting customers, or patients to be precise, for its sophisticated hospitals.

Malaysia has for some time viewed and analyzed the success of Singapore in promoting itself as a medical destination. Just like Singapore, where Indonesians comprise 75 percent of foreign patients, Malaysia is also targeting Indonesians in its main strategy. By making Indonesia its main market, Malaysia will be competing head on with Singapore. Indonesia is indeed an attractive market as about 200,000 patients choose to have treatment abroad, with the entire business being worth at least US$600 million annually.

A number of foreign hospitals have affiliated with Indonesian hospitals to get a slice of the lucrative Indonesian market. One such Indonesian hospital is the Medika hospital group, which is a member of the Johor Medical Association or Kumpulan Perubatan Johor (KPJ) Healthcare Bhd Group of Hospitals, Malaysia. The Malaysian partner has invested in building the Medika Bumi Serpong Damai Hospital, which will be located close to Omni International Hospital.

KPJ Healthcare Bhd Group of Hospitals owns other hospitals, namely Medika Permata Hijau and Selasih Padang Hospitals. A number of other foreign hospitals have partnered with local hospitals and are also building new hospitals here.

Today Malaysia is among the top five medical destinations after Panama, which is No. 1, followed by Brazil, Costa Rica and India consecutively. Nuwire Investors Online data on investment opportunities indicate that the countries are ranked based on the quality and capacity of medical services and their willingness to accept foreign investors.

Malaysia offers a number of medical services and procedures, including dental, cosmetic and heart surgery at prices that are much lower than those in the U.S. For both foreign patients and investors, the rate for the Malaysian ringgit is also favorable, while the country's economic and political situation are stable and the literacy rate is very high.

This Malaysian industry has grown significantly over the past couple of years, with the number of foreign patients in 2006 reaching 296,687 and an income of about US$59 million. The Malaysian Hospital Association predicts the number will grow by an average of 30 percent annually until 2010. claims that Malaysia offers a network of hospitals and clinics that are very comprehensive with 88.5 percent of the country's population living within three kilometers of the clinics or private practitioners.

Included in Malaysia's medical tourism destination campaign are 35 private hospitals that are expected to enhance the campaign. And, Indonesia is definitely one country being targeted in the campaign. One high-ranking official at the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) said Indonesia was considered an easy market. Indeed, many Indonesians may opt for Malaysia as it has a number of plus points, one of which is cost.

While some local hospitals have facilities of international standard, their charges are relatively high. Many Indonesians, rather than choose costly local medication, choose to go abroad for treatment at a lower cost, and at the same time have the added option of go sightseeing.

Ashadi Lubis, a resident of Medan, North Sumatra, is a perfect example. The export and import businessman has been having annual checkups in Penang, Malaysia, since 1994. He is satisfied with the services and facilities of the hospital there. It is not surprising that his family members also entrust their medical care to the hospital. Next to the superior services and facilities, the cost is relatively low, he said. "My mother had a gallstone operation for only Rp 18 million, including medicine, doctors' fees and the operation itself," he explained.

Based on the favorable value of the Malaysian ringgit and the low cost of living, medical care there costs much less than in the U.S. or Europe. Hence, for Indonesians going abroad for medical treatment, especially to Malaysia, is no longer a luxury. Such a visit could be for a simple general checkup or treatment for a serious ailment. Indeed, Malaysia pampers its patients with facilities that include rooms and services that are on par with a five-star hotel. Some even surpass luxury hotels. However, most important is the world-class medical care and surgery. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, July 31, 2008

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