MEDICAL tourism in Malaysia was doing so well, netting RM1.7bil in revenue in 2019, and was projected by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) to hit RM2.8bil in 2020.
But that projection was made in 2018, well before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the globe and economies of countries worldwide were wrecked by the actions taken by their respective governments to contain the spread of the disease.
Malaysia is now in the midst of a national vaccination programme that aims to immunise at least 80% of the population by the end of February next year. With this in mind, it’s time that we prepare for the creation of vaccine passports for our citizens.
The vaccine passport should not be limited to just showing proof of vaccination but also include the results of the most recent Covid-19 tests taken by the holder. This would allow those who have not been vaccinated but have taken the tests and showed negative results to travel. Such a system would make a positive impact on medical tourism.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently announced that discussions on the creation and recognition of vaccine passports are currently going on with China and Singapore.
The healthcare sector recognises the work needed to establish a digital infrastructure for systems such as vaccination passports. Blockchain technology would be the most ideal solution for vaccination passports, especially a decentralised blockchain ledger that ensures anonymity, immutability and, more importantly, transparency.
We strongly recommend that the government begins work to design such a system immediately. Firstly, we need universally defined standards for how a digital vaccination passport should work and which could be easily adopted and adapted by other countries.
Beginning regionally would be the best option, thus we should test and implement the vaccination passport within Asean to serve both medical and commercial tourism.
Locally, we need all stakeholders to collaborate and set the stage for this system from a regulatory perspective to balance prioritising safety with reopening of economies. Scalability must be also be considered where data storage is concerned to accommodate the population of the nation and inbound patients as well.
Private hospitals and other related agencies would like the Health Ministry to be the regulatory body for this passport, especially in determining the authenticity of health vaccination information.
We propose that medical tourism should commence once a large proportion of our citizens have been vaccinated and not to wait until the end of the programme as this would delay economic recovery.
Blockchain technology would also help Malaysia to achieve its aspiration to transform into a digitally driven, high-income nation and a regional leader in digital economy.
DATUK DR KULJIT SINGH , President Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia