ISLAMABAD: With the restriction on visas by India for Pakistani patients amid tensions in held Kashmir, Pakistan is now looking at Turkey for affordable healthcare for which an agreement is to be signed during Turkish president’s upcoming visit, Dawn learnt on Sunday.

“The agreement will be signed during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official visit to Pakistan on Oct 23. The agreement will open a window for Pakistani patients who in the past travelled to India seeking medical treatment,” an official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), who is not authorised to speak on the matter, told Dawn.

A large number of patients had been travelling to India for several years, especially for liver transplants but with the Aug 5 clampdown in held Kashmir there has been a decline in issuing of visas by India to Pakistanis and Pakistan has also halted trade with India.

Patients no longer going to India due to visa issues

However, now Turkey is being considered as another option for Pakistani patients. Medical tourism is on the rise in Turkey and the country is seeking to attract medical tourists from around the world, according to news reports.

“Even if India starts issuing visas to Pakistani patients, it is not going to be easy for them to travel there in such a tense environment. Therefore, we have been looking towards Turkey as an option,” the NHS official said.

Other benefits of this agreement, according to the official, are the same level of affordability as their Turkish counterparts and concessions to Pakistani citizens. “Because of the agreement Turkey will facilitate Pakistani patients to receive medical treatment at the same price as Turkish citizens in their hospitals. We will also negotiate for concessions to Pakistani citizens as they will also be incurring travelling costs,” the official added.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, while talking to Dawn, said the ministry of NHS was interacting with its counterpart in Turkey over the matter.

“When Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Turkey [in January], they were quite interested in providing medical facilities to the people of Pakistan. Mr Khan welcomed it as health is one of the priorities of the government.”

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2019