Muslim travellers have long chosen Malaysia, its’ beautiful beaches and shopping malls as a holiday destination, mainly thanks to cultural similarities. Muslims now make up about 60% of the Malaysian population and Malaysia wants to transform its visitor dividend into a bid to overtake its neighbours for the world’s medical tourism title. The south eastern Asian country seeks to appeal to the less affluent patients with reasonably priced treatments. Figures however, show that it has some ground to cover to reach up to the standards of Thailand and Singapore where the industry generates around $38billion to $55billion annually! Malaysia is a new player in the market, competing with experienced, branded names. But it is quickly attracting the attention of patients, earning third place for “best and most affordable healthcare” by International Living, a lifestyle magazine. “Thailand’s pricing is not attractive anymore and Singapore can’t cope with the flood of patients,” said Jacob Thomas, president of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia. “We are one of the easiest countries to enter. Most foreigners don’t need to fill in a landing form.” The number of foreigners seeking care in Malaysia has more than doubled over five years to 770,134 patients in 2013. Most patients are from Indonesia, followed by the Middle East and North Africa. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) spent over $2 billion in 2011 to send patients abroad, according to Medical Tourism Guide of 2014. Halal treatments Malaysia is also pursuing a larger share of the Muslim market through the use of Halal treatments, which exclude products forbidden under Islamic law, such as those derived from pork. “For example, insulin, a widely used product in hospitals, which we are sure are bovine or porcine based. Where we can help it, we offer patients Halal options,” said KPJ’s Amiruddin. Islam allows for the consumption of non-Halal ingredients in matters of life and death, but hospital pharmacies inform patients of products that are gelatine and porcine free. That includes offering the drug Dhamotil as a Halal option for diarrhoea, instead of the commonly used Imodium. Hospitals are also using sutures manufactured by a local firm made from lambs slaughtered under Islamic law. Work is underway to produce the world’s first Halal vaccines for meningitis and hepatitis by 2017. The target would be Muslim pilgrims going for the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, which requires visitors to be vaccinated for meningitis. “We realise that if we can come up with Halal pharmaceutical products, there’s a big market for it,” said Jamil Bidin, chief executive of Halal Industry Development Corp. “As far as Muslims are concerned, if you have a Halal product, there’s no compromise.”
What is a halal treatment though?