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India a Hub for Patients From Afghanistan

India a Hub for Patients From Afghanistan

November 1, 2013: Three years ago, the family of Rohullah Afzali, 23, a medical student at a university in Herat in western Afghanistan, noticed changes in his behavior. He was often brooding, anxious and sometimes angry. He would stay awake for three, even four nights on end.

NEW DELHI – Three years ago, the family of Rohullah Afzali, 23, a medical student at a university in Herat in western Afghanistan, noticed changes in his behavior. He was often brooding, anxious and sometimes angry. He would stay awake for three, even four nights on end.

Doctors suspected he had a bipolar disorder and possibly even schizophrenia. But the medicines they prescribed weren’t helping. On subsequent visits to clinics and hospitals in Kabul, doctors told Mr. Afzali and his family that there were no options in Afghanistan for further treatment.

So the Afzalis did what hundreds of thousands of Afghans have done in recent years, which is to travel to New Delhi for treatment in the city’s private hospitals, which offer sophisticated treatment at far lower prices than in developed countries.

“India is famous in Afghanistan for its modern hospitals and availability of medicines,” said Boman Ali Afzali, the father of the medical student, in an interview earlier this week. “Everyone we spoke to told us success stories and suggested we come here.”

The staggering influx of Afghans traveling to Delhi is partially the result of India’s introduction of a special medical visa for Afghans in 2005. These medical visas are free and do not require applicants to provide financial statements or proof of medical insurance.

According to the Indian Embassy in Kabul, over 100,000 medical visas have been issued just since the beginning of 2010, about half the number of total visas for travel to India from Afghanistan in those three years.

Twenty flights operate weekly between Delhi and Kabul. In the fall, as the weather in Delhi cools, airlines use bigger planes and sometimes add extra flights to accommodate increased traffic.

Several Afghans I spoke to explained that the vast majority of the Afghans who visit India on medical visas do not have life-threatening or serious ailments. The mild weather in Delhi provides an escape from the bitter chill of Afghan winters, so from mid-October and March, Afghans combine visits to orthopedists, ophthalmologists, dentists and even cosmetic surgeons with family vacations in the Indian capital. Only the most severe prognoses bring patients to Delhi in its punishingly hot summer.

Mustafa Shojaee, 20, from the Panjshir Valley, has been in Delhi for around two weeks. His mother has had persistent but mild stomach problems. Mr. Shojaee and his brother accompanied her and consulted doctors at the upscale, privately run Max Hospital in the Saket area in south Delhi.

These days, while she is at the hospital accompanied by his brother and an Afghan translator, Mr. Shojaee wanders about a few streets in the Lajpat Nagar neighborhood, which are the epicenter of Afghan life in Delhi — a little Kabul. Restaurants like Kabul-Delhi and Afghan Darbar are interspersed with pharmacies, travel agents, barbershops and moneychangers, all advertising in Dari, Afghanistan’s lingua franca.

Source: http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/india-a-hub-for-patients-from-afghanistan/

 

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