According to The Times of India, the medical tourism sector in India adds up to at least a hundred thousand patients per year - and an amount of dollars many times higher. Consequently, the country was convulsed when in the Summer of 2010 British microbiologist Timothy Walsh announced he had discovered a new antibiotic-resistant gene in the capital New Delhi. The outrage seemed to be rather selective though: de wound-up top media people in India continuously gave the impression that they were more worried about the prosperity of the expensive private hospitals than about the locals' well-being.

Even though revolting TV documentaries happily welcome the contrast between the relatively impeccable healthcare for Western - and other rich - patients and the disgraceful conditions in which regular Indians are forced to get treatment, the question is if it makes any sense at all to compare both observations. That is what Tim Vernimmen set out to investigate by traveling through the North of India one and a half years after the fuss. He did not only have an extensive talk with whistle-blower Walsh, but with different Indian scientists, doctors and patients as well.

Afterwards he went to the hospitals himself. He spent a few days queuing at India's largest public hospital and paid an unannounced visit to a private clinic in Agra that is on the route of some organised trips for people who want to combine sightseeing with cosmetic surgery. In this way he paints a balanced but critical picture of the way the country struggles with the equilibrium between economic progress and care for the weakest, and of the dangers to which it thereby exposes not only its own citizens, but the rest of the world as well.

Tim Vernimmen

Freelance science journalist Tim Vernimmen writes about all things alive. His articles have been published by a range of newspapers, magazines and websites in Belgium and abroad.
A working grant of € 3,275 allocated on 6/09/2011.

EOS magazine, July 2012