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How is the Indian visa ban affecting Bangladeshi medical tourists?

  • Published at 12:23 am March 17th, 2020
COVID-19 novel coronavirus, stand outside the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi
Passengers wearing facemasks amid concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, stand outside the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on March 16 AFP

A press release was issued in this regard by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka on Thursday

Patients who seek medical help in neighbouring India will face a dire situation with the onset of the visa ban.

The Indian government has made the decision to suspend a vast majority of visas for the country in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Talking to multiple patients, this reporter has found out their current situation.

A patient Minhaz Rahman has been receiving cancer treatment from MGM Healthcare, a multi-specialty hospital in Chennai, India for the last one year. One of his radio therapy appointments was scheduled for March 13.

However, Minhaz could not get the visa to go to India for further treatment. 

Now he is searching for a good oncologist in Bangladesh who can take a look at his medical status and ensure further treatment.

He told Dhaka Tribune: "We have no faith in the healthcare system of Bangladesh because there is no proper cancer care centre yet. Some are going to Singapore and other countries for treatment. I am totally dependent on India, so I am worried about how I will finish the rest of my treatment."

According to patients, lack of accessibility and easy communication in Bangladesh often causes frustration, which leads people to look for better medication abroad, especially in India.

A press release was issued in this regard by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka on Thursday. 

"All valid visas issued by the High Commission of India or the Assistant High Commissions of India in Bangladesh on or before March 12, 2020, will remain suspended from 6pm, March 13, 2020, till April 15, 2020. No new visa shall be issued from March 13, 2020," said the release.

India Tourism Statistics 2018 says, one in every five tourists in India is Bangladeshi.

According to the Bureau of Immigration, Govt of India, Bangladesh took the first position among 10 countries with 21.37% of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India in 2018 (P).

Among 10557929 foreign visitors in India 2256675 were Bangladeshi tourists, and 10% of them went with medical visas.

Thousands of patients travel to India with critical gynaecological problems, diabetes, kidney problems, heart diseases, ear, nose, throat problems and mainly for cancer treatment.

A patient Syed Fazilatunnesa said:"I go to India three to four times every year for diabetic treatment. My family also gets health checkups from there. My medicine which was from India has already run out."

Shammy Wadud, managing director (operations) of PlanMyMed (Bangladesh representative of MGM Healthcare) told Dhaka Tribune: "If I talk about Apollo Hospital in India, every branch of it gets 1000 patients from Bangladesh every month."

"PlanMyMed collaborates with MGM Healthcare and guide patients to the right hospitals and doctors. Every month we consult with 200 patients. Even after the announcement of ban on Indian visas for the next one month, I have got requests by10 Bangladeshi patients to arrange visas," she added.

She said: "Most of our patients are taking cancer treatment. Many have been sent back mid-treatment."

Shammy herself is also a cancer survivor, every three months she goes for checkups and stays for at least 14 days in Chennai. She also returned on March 11 leavingher treatment incomplete.

Due to the Indian visa ban, no one can get the Indian visa for the next one month, even for treatment. Only serious emergency medical issues will get priority.

During this time, online medical services will be provided from India through prior appointment. In addition to that, cancer patients will be referred to local specialist doctors for therapy and other treatments, said Shammy.

Ahoy Bangladesh Limited, a medical value travel company based in India, informed that they receive 300 to 400 patients applying for Indian medical visa per month.

Mehjabin Moslem, associate manager (operation) of Ahoy Bangladesh said: "We saw a rise in our client number during the first three months of the year as compared to last year. We serve hassle-free medical visa processing but now we cannot serve a single patient for a month."

Bangladeshi patients rely more on neighbouring countries' medical services, and patients undergoing cancer treatment will be completely shattered. Those who received half of their therapy sessions from India are now worried about which hospital to go to in Bangladesh, she added.

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