KUALA LUMPUR: Only 16 foreigners have come into the country for medical treatment since the government reopened the medical tourism sector in July, says the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).
MHTC chief executive officer Sherene Azli (pic) said that 250 foreigners made serious inquiries about seeking treatment in the country, but less than 10% from that number were allowed in because of the stringent standard operating procedure (SOP).
“We are also very concerned about our own well-being, and at the same time, we are trying to balance it with the humanitarian requirements of our patients who are desperately seeking treatment, ” Sherene told a press briefing on Tuesday (Aug 18).
She said of their 70-member hospitals, only 15 were ready to receive foreign patients because of the stringent SOP.
The arrival of three Indonesians seeking medical treatment in Penang drew a lot of flak on social media, with Penang chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow later saying that it would temporarily halt medical tourism due to the recent flare-up of Covid-19 cases in the state.
Sherene said while they understood the Penang government's concerns, they stood by the SOP approved by the Federal Government.
She said moving forward, they would work together with state governments to continue exemplification of national safety, while adhering to the Federal Government’s direction.
She added that the three Indonesians patients were accompanied by two carers, making it a total of five who boarded a chartered flight on an Airbus A320 plane to Penang.
Two were seeking treatment for cancer, while the other was a paediatric cardiology case.
They had arrived at the Penang International Airport on Friday (Aug 14).
Only one hospital in Penang was taking in foreign patients at the moment, said Sherene.
In 2019, Malaysia welcomed 1.3 million healthcare travellers into the country, which was the top healthcare travel destination in the world by volume, with more than half of this number seeking treatment in Penang.
In June, the National Security Council (NSC) had decided that foreign patients could seek treatment in Malaysia with a mandatory 14-day quarantine in the hospital room.
Each may be accompanied by a guardian and both must be certified Covid-19 negative before boarding the plane to Malaysia.
Upon arrival, they must be immediately sent to the private hospital of their choosing for treatment.
They would also have to undergo another two Covid-19 tests – upon arrival at the hospital and the 13th day of quarantine.
NSC subsequently decided that only foreign medical evacuees – patients with life-threatening conditions – could come to Malaysia for treatment in the initial phase.
They have to enter Malaysia via medical evacuation or via a chartered flight.
More than half medical tourists that come here annually for treatment are Indonesians.
As of Tuesday, Indonesia recorded 143,000 cumulative Covid-19 cases and 6,277 deaths.
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