South Asian Healthcare Information and Coverage Options for Expatriates
South Asia or Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent and is a popular destination for expats and global nomads as many of the countries have booming economies. In most parts of South Asia, there’s a limit in the local medical facilities. The South Asian region made up of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka is commonly referred to as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The basic demography affecting healthcare for the majority of these South Asian countries is quite similar. Most South Asian nations face serious healthcare issues, medical aid affordability and accessibility challenges being chief among them. The availability of qualified doctors is another big challenge.
Despite their ailing healthcare systems and inadequacies in their medical care system, global nomads continue to flock here. And the reasons are pretty obvious. Expats enjoy the diverse cultures and natural beauty of these countries.
All SAARC nations have a reputation for excellent hospitality. Nonetheless, moving to a new country as an expat can be daunting at first. That is why it helps to be aware of the local laws and customs, including healthcare facilities. To make the stay of global citizens as easy and hassle-free as possible, we’ve tried to provide some healthcare tips.
Healthcare Systems in Various South Asian Countries for Expatriates
Healthcare Systems in Various South Asian Countries for Expats – A Short Summary
Despite the many, many years of continuous struggle and war that Afghanistan has witnessed, the country’s multiculturalism and rugged pastoral beauty have managed to draw some expats to this war-torn land. Due to the frequent occurrences of violent clashes and terrorist attacks, Afghanistan remains a high-risk expat destination. The country’s infrastructure lies ruined as a result of the decades of conflict and terrorist attacks. It’s mostly people who work in the armed forces, private security field, or in the development and diplomatic sectors who travel to Afghanistan.
Apart from a few basic medical facilities available in the capital city of Kabul, the healthcare system in Afghanistan is fragile. Medical emergencies require air evacuation. Expats traveling to the country need to ensure that they are safely covered through a comprehensive medical insurance policy. It is certainly not an expat destination for the whole family.
The basic healthcare infrastructure in Bangladesh remains poor. Only the urban areas have below average medical facilities. Bangladesh also faces major health challenges due to the constant threat of communicable diseases caused by severe floods during the monsoons. Additionally, there are deaths every year due to the outbreak of major diseases such as typhoid, dengue fever, and malaria, among others.
Hospitals and clinics around the country are hardly equipped to deal with emergency situations and most expect cash payment prior to treatment. Most medical facilities do not accept insurance covers. Serious emergencies lead to air evacuations. Some health insurance plans provide foreign nationals appropriate cover, including maternity insurance and dental protection, outpatient treatment, specialist consultations, alternative therapies, complementary medicine, and emergency evacuation coverage.
Some of the leading hospitals in Bangladesh are Central Hospital, Dhaka Community Hospital, Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital, Renaissance Hospital & Research Institute, and Square Hospital Ltd.
Popular as the happiest country in Asia, Bhutan attracts visitors from across the world. Except for one private healthcare facility in the capital city of Thimphu, there are no other private medical care facilities. All physicians and doctors work for the government.
The Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital in Thimphu is the best healthcare facility in Bhutan. Patients here include tourists and travelers, along with the locals. Free basic medical treatment is open to everyone. In addition, advanced services such as surgical and emergency treatment are also accessible. Services available here include pathology labs, operating rooms, as well as CT and MRI diagnoses.
While healthcare facilities in India may not have the high standards available in the West, some of the services available are at par with the best in the world. Public hospitals have plenty of English-speaking doctors that are very helpful for expats, though these facilities do suffer from a lack of adequate funding. Expats prefer to seek treatment in western-style private hospitals in the metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata.
The private sector is what most Indian citizens opt for. They avoid the crowded and unhygienic public hospitals. These private facilities accept both cash payments as well as insurance covers. If you are paying out of your pocket, keep a record of all paperwork and bills for reimbursement.
Clusters of sunny small islands and atolls makes the Maldives a major travel destination. In addition, the underwater world is another hit for diving enthusiasts. However, there’s are not many hospitals and medical facilities in the Maldives. There are only three hospitals, located in the capital city of Male — the ADK Hospital, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), and the Tree Top Hospital. Most cities have basic and limited healthcare facilities. Almost all holiday resort islands ensure that there is a decompression chamber in close proximity, in case of a diving emergency.
The country offers its travelers and visitors a variety of medical options. Though lately, the healthcare system in Pakistan has been under a bit of a strain, due to the political climate in the country and the many natural disasters that occur from time to time. Pakistan has a comprehensive medical system and is able to provide good quality medical treatment in the South Asian region. The following are some of the best private hospitals in Pakistan: Doctor’s Hospital, Farooq Hospital, Indus Hospital, ITTEFAQ Hospital, and Saifee Hospital.
A haven for outdoor enthusiasts — mountain climbing, trekking, and whitewater rafting — Nepal is much loved by its adventure-loving visitors. But these same activities can also present health and safety issues — altitude sickness (HAPE, HACE), gastrointestinal ailments, or even physical injuries. Healthcare system in Nepal is limited for expats and travelers. Most of the seriously injured or ailing are air-lifted to neighboring countries.
Like in many South Asian nations, healthcare facilities in most regional areas of Sri Lanka lack funding and proper attention. Both locals and foreigners can use public hospitals, but most facilities lack proper standards.
Healthcare Services for Expats in South Asia
It’s sad but true that almost all SAARC nations have been hit by terrorism. This makes it essential for expats traveling to these places to take due precautions during their visit. Expats are advised to invest in appropriate international healthcare policies before traveling to any of these countries, including emergency evacuation insurance. It is also advised that expats carry adequate supplies of medicines and prescription drugs when traveling to South Asia.
Emergency numbers to call in case of an emergency are:
India: 112, 102, 108
Pakistan: 115, 1122
Sri Lanka: 110
Health Insurance for International Citizens in South Asia
Most parts of South Asia have limited medical facilities. Expats moving to these areas need to secure global healthcare policies so that they do not have to depend on the publically funded healthcare facilities or hospitals. In some South Asian countries, even private healthcare policies that serve the locals are not reliable. Also, in most emergency medical situations, expats need to be evacuated by air. This is commonly seen in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.
All expatriates and tourists traveling to South Asia should purchase a private international health insurance policy for themselves as well as their families that also include air evacuation insurance cover. This will safeguard them against serious illness or injury in a foreign land.
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