Mohammad Panahi, the deputy head of the Health Tourism Promotion Association of Iran, says medical tourism had yielded $1.2 billion in revenue for the country in the last year, a figure that shows a 20-30% increase only in the first four months of the current year.
In an interview with Donya-ye Eqtesad, Panahi said these medical tourists were mainly from the Persian Gulf littoral states, Iraq, Syria, and Azerbaijan, as well as Iranian expatriates residing in Canada and Germany, who travelled to Iran to receive various healthcare services such as plastic surgery, open heart surgery, orthopedic surgery, and fertility treatments.
He cited the depreciation of Iranian rial against foreign currencies as the main reason for the tremendous growth in the number of medical tourists visiting Iran, as it has greatly decreased the cost of traveling to and medical services in Iran, which alongside the great skill and expertise of Iranian doctors has made the healthcare service market of Iran very attractive to foreigners.
Touching on the challenges facing the medical tourism of Iran, Panahi referred to the unlicensed traditional middlemen working in this field as a threat to the industry, who often connect patients with inferior medical facilities and charge them unreasonable fees, damaging the reputation of the whole market in Iran.
“To curb the detrimental effects of these activities, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Health Ministry and the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization on May 14, 2019. The document defines the general policies of health tourism in the country,” Panahi said.
Meanwhile, the secretary of the Strategic Council for Health Tourism of Iran, Amin Haqiqat, told Donya-ye Eqtesad that the memorandum of understanding had led the relevant authorities to tighten the supervision on medical tourism activities and consider providing the necessary training for the actors in this area in order to prepare the ground for receiving medical tourists in Iran.
Granting permits of operation to qualified medical tourism companies in Iran and permits for setting up international patients departments (IPDs) to hospitals who have the necessary requirements for admitting foreign medical tourists, setting fees for healthcare services for foreign patients, monitoring the implementation of relevant regulations, and taking immediate measures to cut out unlicensed middlemen are among the commitments of the Ministry of Health as per the this agreement, Haghighat added.
Rise of Professional Medical Tourism Facilitators in Iran
Iran has been a favorite medical tourism destination for people from the neighbouring countries for a long time because of the low cost surgery and other medical services Iran offers and the abundance of proficient doctors in the country. This popularity has soared recently mainly due the devaluation of the Iranian currency against foreign currencies, which is in large due to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S., especially after President Donald Trump decided to scrap the landmark nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and impose inhumane sanctions on Iran.
While having adverse effects on the country’s economy, this has also created an opportunity for Iran to take advantage of this situation to attract health tourists from around the world and provide them with affordable services. This has also given rise to private startup companies, which specialize in offering professional medical tourism services. One of these companies is AriaMedTour, which was established in 2016 as is currently one of the biggest and most reputable health tourism agencies in Iran. Last year, the company introduced two new services under the brands of AloMedical and MedTour Logistics.
AriaMedTour runs two websites to introduce Iran’s medical tourism services to people from around the world who want to receive quality yet affordable treatments abroad. They include comprehensive information about the hospitals, clinics, doctors, and prices for medical services in Iran to help candidates find the best options for their treatment.
While the traditional medical tourism actors in Iran focus on the markets of the neighboring countries, AriaMedTour has managed to attract tourists from a much wider range of countries, including European countries and Australia. The company publishes videos of the patients it provided services to on its website, which shows that it provided services to patients from countries such as Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Russia, among others, as well as Arab countries.
What Treatments Do Foreign Medical Tourists Seek in Iran?
Medical tourists visit Iran for a wide variety of services, including various types of plastic surgery, dental procedures, and medical treatments. Given that the cost of cosmetic procedures in Iran is considerably lower than that in many other countries, people seeking such services are very inclined to make a trip to Iran to get their procedures done. Furthermore, the extensive expertise and experience of Iranian cosmetic surgeons also contributes to the growing appeal of Iran for foreign patients.
Iranian hospitals also draw many patients, mostly from neighboring countries, for medical treatments including eye surgery, orthopedic surgery, and heart surgery.
According to the head of Medical Tourism Department of Iran’s Ministry of Health, Saeid Hashemzadeh, there are currently 169 hospitals in Iran with the necessary permits to admit foreign patients. Many of these hospitals enjoy IPDs and in-patient accommodations for patients and their companions who need to stay in the hospital for a few days after their treatment.
Iran has also become a hot destination for people with infertility problems. With the considerable progress the Islamic Republic has made in this field and the reasonable cost of fertility treatments in Iran compared to other countries, couples from around the world are increasingly traveling to Iran to receive such treatments, including IVF and IVM. Given that infertility patients often require several cycles of treatments to achieve the desired result, the overall cost of their treatments would be prohibitive in countries where prices are high, making such services in Iran very budget-friendly.