01/14/2013, 00.00
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Booming health care business in Asia

As Asian populations age, the demand for quality medical care will rise with consumer spending expected to hit US trillion by 2016. Government will be forced to invest more in health care, especially in cities. Medical tourism is also up as high costs drive patients abroad. Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India are the main destinations.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Asia's health care business is a good prospect for investors, especially at a time of economic stagnation. According to a UBS CIO research report, consumer spending on health care in Asia Pacific will grow to US$ 1 trillion by 2016 at an annual growth rate of 13 per cent. In today's South China Morning Post, Carl Berrisford, an analyst for UBS CIO Wealth Management, says why.

The first reason is that Asia is getting older. Those aged 65 or above will rise 50 per cent by 2020, according to the report. The continent is also getting richer, and demanding higher quality medical support from its governments.

China, for example, spends 5.1 per cent of its gross domestic product on health care (the global average is 9.4 per cent). However, its health care funding has grown 18 per cent a year over the past five years, and could grow by 20 per cent a year over the next five years, the USB-CIO report said.

Complicating matters, over the next 20 years, China will see 200 million people reach the age of 60 or above. With decades of one-child policy, it will have fewer young people relative to its elderly to support them. In addition, the mainland's plan to recognise the 200 or so million migrant workers who live in cities with no formal residency status will have a big impact on medical spending.

Indeed, urbanisation affects all the big cities in Asia, bringing greater demand for good quality health care. City life itself is exposing people to new kinds of disease.

Rural health services largely revolve around infection fighting. In urban settings, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are more common.

Asian medical facilities are also drawing interest from outside. Medical tourism is likely to grow as people seek cheaper treatment in countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India.

For example, the average US$ 113,000 price tag for heart bypass surgery in the United States costs only US$ 20,000 in Singapore, now one of Asia's top medical tourism hubs, and half that price in India. The same is true for cosmetic surgery.

So far much of the medical tourism has been intra-regional, but this could change with non-Asians flocking to take advantage of the continent's health care services.

Asia's medical tourism market could double between 2011 and 2015, with medical tourist arrivals exceeding 10 million by 2015.

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