Medical tourists who are going to South Asian countries for cheaper medical treatment risk picking up and spreading a new superbug.

This gene, known as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1, was found in patients in Britain, who may have contacted it while receiving treatment in countries such as India and Pakistan.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal published a report this week claiming that researchers found this new gene to be common in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

NDM-1 is highly resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class called carbapenems.

With increasing popularity of medical tourism, the scientists said they feared this new superbug could soon spread around the world.

Prof Timothy Walsh who led the research team, examined bacteria samples from hospital patients in Chennai and Haryana and also from patients referred to Britain’s national reference laboratory between 2007 and last year. They found 44 cases of NDM-1-positive bacteria in Chennai, 26 in Haryana, 37 in Britain, and 73 in other sites in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Many of the infected British patients had travelled to these countries for different medical treatments, including cosmetic surgery, kidney or bone marrow transplants, dialysis, pregnancy care or burns treatment.

Reaction from the medical industry in India was expectedly strong.

The medical tourism industry in India has called this negative report an attempt to discredit a business that earned the country an estimated 20 billion rupees (US$423 million) last year.

Dr Yatin Mehta at Medanta, one of India’s best hospitals, dismissed these reports and claimed the hygiene standards in India’s hospitals are better than those of the National Health Service in Britain.

‘Multi-drug resistance can be found anywhere in the world,’ said Dr V.M. Katoch, Secretary for Health Research who also chairs the Indian Council of Medical Research. ‘It is unfair to blame India for that.’

This act of naming Superbug after New Delhi, while none of the samples collected was from Delhi and its presence in UK itself indigenously, appears a ‘Racially’ and commercially motivated act to malign Indian Medical tourism sector.” said Dr K M Kapoor, Senior Consultant, Cosmetic Surgery at Fortis Hospital, Mohali and a Medical Tourism exponent in India.

Looks like this “fingers pointing” will continue for a while.

Richard Ryckoff, a retired American living in Phuket, is enjoying life in the Thai resort. He spends his time doing his favorite pastime, cycling and reading. Then recently he felt breathless even when not exercising.

He consulted a cardiologist and the initial prognosis wasn’t positive. He got in touch with my American partner Planet Hospital and within a week he was in Singapore for medical treatment.

He went through a number of tests at the National University Hospital under the supervision of A/Prof Theo Kofidis, a specialist in minimally invasive surgery for heart valve. Richard was told he may need a mitral heart valve replacement but luckily Prof Kofidis managed to repair his valve without replacement.

After staying at the ICU for 3 days and another week at the normal ward, Richard was discharged and went home to Phuket today.

prof-kofidis-examining-richard1 me-prof-kofidis-and-richard

Prof Kofidis examining Richard                     Myself, Prof Kofidis and Richard

before discharge from hospital

Singapore Health Partners Mediplex

Singapore Health Partners Mediplex

One of the things I worry about when a foreign patient comes to town is accommodation.

Singapore offers a wide variety of accommodation types to suit different budgets, needs and preferences. These range from budget and boutique hotels, to 6 stars hotels and fully furnished serviced apartments in good locations.

Despite these choices, it is sometimes a challenge to find the right combination that pleases a fussy patient.

However this problem may be alleviated when a new integrated hospital complex is scheduled for completion towards the end of 2010.

This 19 storey Mediplex comprises a medical centre with specialist suites, hospital, and a hotel. This concept is believed to be the first in Asia and the objective is to capture a big slice of the estimated S$100 billion medical tourism market.

The medical centre has 189 consultation suites to house a wide spectrum of medical specialists. The hospital next door has 11 operating theatres, three day surgery units with 60 attached beds, an intensive care unit with 23 beds, radiotherapy unit, clinical laboratories and a full-service pharmacy.

Connected to the hospital is the hotel and guests have a choice of standard hotel rooms, serviced apartments and villas. All accommodations feature large bathrooms with rain showers, bay windows presenting floor to ceiling view.

The hotel is designed to offer a lush tropical garden ambience, with large spas, gymnasiums, six pools, ballroom, banquet hall, seminar and conference rooms, and a floor dedicated to retail food and beverage outlets.

A patient can check into the hotel in the morning and walks over to the medical centre to consult the doctor. Then he goes for lunch in one of the many restaurants and proceed to do some investigative tests in the afternoon. He returns to the hotel a few steps away, do some window shopping in the evening follow by a good massage in the spa. The next day he goes to the hospital next door for surgery and returns to the hotel to recuperate. All these activities are done in the same medical complex without leaving the building.

Family members and companions can stay in the same hotel, and enjoy the comfort and convenience of world-class facilities and at the same time provide emotional and physical support to the patient. This is healthcare and wellness at its best.

I am eagerly looking forward to the pleasure of showing this new integrated medical complex to my next patient.