Iran is being touted as a haven for medical and health tourism, thanks to the Caspian region country’s diverse climate, natural resources like mineral springs and medicinal herbs, as well as high-quality medical services at costs lower than those in the west and regional countries.
“Health tourism is a $150-billion industry,” Mohammad Hossein Mirdehqan, an official at Iran’s health ministry said, according to a report in the Financial Tribune. “A medical tourist spends between $3,600 and $7,600 on every trip, so we need to devise and implement plans to bring that money to Iran.”
Iran is considered an ideal destination for health tourism, as around 400 hospitals cater to procedures sought out by foreign visitors to the country who are looking for medical services, or what can be called ‘health tourists’.
In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked Iran number 58 in terms of health care and 93 regarding its health system performance. In 2016, Bloomberg News ranked Iran number 30 in the efficiency category, ahead of the United States.
In early August, Iran signed agreements with 13 neighboring countries with the aim of developing and reorganizing its medical tourism sector.
“We have already signed agreements with 13 regional countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Bahrain and Oman to facilitate travel to Iran for people who are in need of medical services,” Gholamhossein Ebrahimbay-Salami, the managing director of the Tourism Holding Company said, according to a report in the Tehran Times.
“The hospitals have already worked in the field of medical tourism and we are consulting with a number of others that are located in major cities of Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Rasht, as well as some border cities like Kermanshah, Zabul, and Zahedan,” Ebrahimbay-Salami said.
In August, Iran’s Minister of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare Ali Rabiee said that Iran has the potential to earn $7 billion in annual revenue through attracting one million health tourists per year. In an address at an international conference held in Tehran, Rabiee said the country's high security, experienced medical staff, spas, salt water lakes and mud therapy facilities make the country an attractive destination.
Iran’s capital city, Tehran, boasts the largest “hotel hospital” in the Middle East, while an entire complex, called Healthcare City, is being built in Isfahan. The project, which is worth $260 million and kicked off last month, offers services in beauty treatments as well as traditional medicine.
Another $260 million has been invested in the construction of a hospital in the city of Urmiya, in northwestern Iran, which will become the country’s first “smart hospital” capable of being connected with similar hospitals in the world. Set to go online by March 2018, it has wards including maternity, surgery, physiotherapy and specialized clinics.
Some 30,000 visas were issued for medical tourists that travelled to Iran in 2016, although getting a visa is seen as an obstacle to some would-be medical tourists. Overcoming the visa hurdle has been thought out, however, and Iran offers visa-free medical services on Kish island, located in the Persian Gulf. The Aras Free Economic Zone in northwestern Iran and the Arvand Free Economic Zone in the southwest are expected to launch a similar arrangement.
According to Iran’s Health Ministry, 105,000 inbound tourists visited Iran for medical purposes between March 2016 and March 2017, bringing $588 million in revenue to the country, however Mohammad Panahi, Vice-President of the Association for Development of Iranian Medical Tourism Services, said revenues from health tourism were “around $1.2 billion” in 2016.
The majority of visitors came from neighboring countries such as including Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Persian Gulf states. Iran’s officials aim to get the figure to $2.5 billion by 2025.