A New Year, A New Experience

Andrew Coutts

I began 2020 enthusiastically looking forward to my first trip to Malaysia to view the best healthcare facilities and experts that the country had to offer. Initial conversations with the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council began after I had witnessed its CEO, Sherene Azli give a show stopping talk about the opportunities available to patients at an International Medical Travel Journal event in Athens in 2018.

 

The talk showcased the prestigious private healthcare institutions who partner MHTC and offer breath taking facilities with jaw dropping medic/patient ratios and cutting edge treatments and technologies. But, what was equally impressive was the way Sherene spoke about the individuals involved, the care givers, the support workers and the medics who were committed to providing the highest standards of care and treatment to ever growing numbers of patients from across the globe.

So too, was the emphasis placed on the care and support offered to health tourists from the moment they arrive in the country with access to dedicated Concierge services and Lounges in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Penang International Airport to the moment they leave.

This level of service is not offered merely as ‘front of house’ effect, it continues throughout the patient’s stay in Malaysia where they and their travelling companions can access medical, wellness and tourist facilities.

In my job as an international fertility travel consultant I travel the world reviewing services, facilities and professionals however MHTC and the ‘Malaysian Experience’ offers a layer of comfort that I have rarely seen before.

To put it simply. This is not just medical tourism, this is ‘wrap around’ care and support at its most sophisticated.

Like the majority of events, campaigns and initiatives planned for 2020 the highly anticipated, “Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel 2020” and linked “Visit Malaysia 2020” campaigns had to be postponed but despite Covid-19’s best efforts Malaysia has been both robust and successful in its handling and containment of the pandemic which has caused world wide devastation and disruption.

At the time of writing (September 2020) Malaysia is reporting a recovery rate of 96.6% for those that have been infected by the disease which puts it near the top of the list of countries who have been most successful with its medical and social distancing interventions. The World Health Organization (WHO) commended the country for being one of the best prepared for the outbreak and its Health Director-General, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah has been recognised as one of the ‘top three doctors’ in the world by China Global Television Network (CGTN). It is no wonder therefore that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently proclaimed,

“Malaysia is recognised as one of the best countries in dealing with COVID-19 and the death rates attributed to COVID-19 are among the lowest in the world”.

Malaysia’s response to the pandemic is another indication of its ability to tackle, supress and succeed in treating disease and illness. It is no surprise therefore that it has become one of the fastest growing destinations for medical travellers who arrive seeking interventions to treat, stabilise or cure.

Covid-19 has had an enormous short term effect on the country’s medical tourist trade and normal travel behavour patterns may not return soon but MHTC’s CEO Sherene Azli believes that the country’s experience and track record will enable it to bounce back, and bounce back with some impact over the next five years,

“Malaysia expects to welcome fewer than 300,000 medical tourists this year, compared with 1.2 million last year but we are confident that our ambitious plans for recovery are realistic and sustainable”.

The Malaysia Healthcare Industry Blueprint (2020-2025) which was developed earlier in 2020 supports this view and provides a roadmap to enhance the country’s position in the region as the first choice destination for healthcare travellers. The blueprint aims to increase the revenue generated from healthcare travellers to a minimum of RM4.2 billion (US$1.01 billion) by 2025.

The blueprint is ambitious but the joined up approach to medical tourism with MHTC acting as the lynchpin to a collection of leading health and wellness providers, backed by central Government support will ensure that the country continues to lead in an increasingly competitive field.

By 2022 it is estimated that the global healthcare travel market is estimated to be worth RM82.7 billion.

Health and wellness tourism is ‘big business’ and despite a temporary pause in travel it will return, and return with gusto. Malaysia is prepared and will respond with the efficiency and competency it is known for.

My particular interest is fertility travel which is one of the fastest growing sectors of medical tourism. Falling fertility rates as well as individuals delaying parenthood, environmental factors and the emergence of new diagnostics and interventions have contributed to the rise in treatment providers and clinics encouraging cross border travel.

Results from the 2020 Fertility Travel Survey facilitated by the International Fertility Company highlight the main motivators behind fertility travel. These include cost, perceived success rates, treatments offered and the level of care and support offered by providers. Recognised as one of the most comprehensive fertility travel surveys ever undertaken, 97% of participants said that would continue to travel once the temporary restrictions regarding travel due to the coronavirus pandemic were lifted.

So, how does Malaysia score on the top four motivators behind fertility travel and what might allow it to become recognised as the fertility hub of Asia?

Costs:

Treatments are affordable, with each in-vitro fertilization cycle costing between RM16,500 and RM20,600 (US$4,000 and US$5,000). Uniquely, there is also legislation in place to ensure that international patients are not charged any more than domestic patients for the same treatment.

Success rates:

Statistics from MHTC show that clinical pregnancy is successful in one in two fertility patients in Malaysia.

Support:

The Malaysian healthcare system is universally regarded as well-regulated and patients are offered fertility packages which combine health, wealth and tourism and include medical expenses, accommodation, airport transfers and cycle planning.

Treatments Offered:

Procedures widely available in Malaysia are ovulation induction with timed intercourse (TIC), superovulation with intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), assisted hatching (AH), blastocyst transfer (BL) and embryo and sperm cryopreservation. Other treatments include sperm and egg donation (a service available only to non Muslims) gamete intra fallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intra fallopian transfer (ZIFT) and frozen embryo transfers (FET).

Ticking The Right Boxes

Malaysia does seem to tick the right boxes for fertility patients looking to travel and with its Government committed to universal access to high quality healthcare for both the domestic and international patient facilities are on par with anything you might find in Europe or North America.

The country is using the universal pause on medical tourism to provide flexible alternatives to face to face consultations. These include online telemedicine support, maintaining communication between doctor and patient and preparing travellers to ensure they are ready to visit Malaysia when travel restrictions are lifted.

What I like about the Malaysian approach to fertility treatment

The current population of Malaysia is just over 32 million according to the latest United Nations data. It is relatively intimate country which provides a very warm welcome to visitors from all over the globe. Famed for its natural, cultural, historical and gastronomic attractions, its understanding and tolerance of religious and cultural differences it is cosmopolitan and transnational in every sense.

It has the infrastructure which is properly financed and supported to promote medical tourism and the blend of private and public participation ensures that all have bought in and are committed to the aim of making the country a medical destination of choice.

As a fertility practitioner advising patients about travel Malaysia makes all the right noises. Boosted by an English speaking population, and a comprehensive, sophisticated selection of fertility treatments and procedures that are available at significantly lower costs (and currency exchange rates) than many other fertility destinations it is no wonder that it is being seriously considered as the ‘fertility hub of Asia’.

This position has much to do with the professionalism, foresight and ability of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council which is able to provide a sector wide approach to medical travel. I have witnessed levels of support for the fertility traveller in many countries but although some of this support is superb it is only provided by individual clinics or groups. MHTC offer a high level of support and information to travellers and present a provider portfolio from which patients can choose the right clinic, hospital or treatment. They not only showcase the medical talent Malaysia has to offer but their collaboration with specific clinics and hospitals offers the patient reassurance regarding the quality of care each provides.

MHTC are a medical tourism facilitator but they are far more than that. They represent a medical tourism model which many other countries would do well to replicate; led by a charismatic CEO they have rightly come to ‘own’ the fertility space in Malaysia and have ensured that this niche area of medicine and science is quite rightly, beginning to warrant the recognition it truly deserves.

My advice. Why not try Malaysia. I am looking forward to it.

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is an agency under the Ministry of Health tasked to facilitate and promote the healthcare travel industry of Malaysia by coordinating industry collaborations and building valuable public-private partnerships, at home and abroad.

You can read more about the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council here

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