DUBAI - Major issues relating to the $50 billion global medical tourism industry are set to be discussed by international experts in Dubai this autumn, at the world’s first global congress dedicated to the subject.

Healthcare Travel Exhibition & Congress 2008 will take place at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel in the emirate from November 2-4, and organisers have revealed there has been unprecedented interest from medical professionals and institutes across the world looking to participate.

"It’s been simply overwhelming the calibre of people wanting to take part in the event," said Sietske Meerloo, Marketing Manager at IIR Middle East. "Medical tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the health and tourism sector, and because of Dubai's position as a global hub, everyone knows that the Healthcare Travel exhibition in November is the place where deals will get done," she added. "We're seeing big names and less well known health providers in the industry from all over the world signing up to take part".

Medical tourism is expected to become a $100 billion dollar industry within the next four years, and countries in developing parts of the world are increasingly looking at ways to adapt their health systems to attract business.

However, the phenomenon of patients crossing borders to receive treatment in foreign lands for any type of condition one cares to imagine is not without risk.

Issues are being addressed as quickly as patients are being treated. These issues can range from whether small private clinics in Thailand have received appropriate international accreditation to treat foreign patients, to whether there’s a negative impact on a local health service’s ability to treat local patients.

Meerloo indicated the Healthcare Travel event will be the ideal platform to address these issues and generate solutions to them. "Obviously there are huge networking opportunities for participants, but a major element of the event is to address the major issues," she said.  "Whether it’s international accreditation or bioethics, Healthcare Travel is all about tackling these issues head-on," she added.

Although there are many issues to be discussed the positive outlook for the medical tourism industry is apparent. It’s an exciting time for the sector, and as more countries offer their services to foreign patients and more insurance firms enter the market, the range of treatments on offer becomes broader.

This fact hasn’t been lost on the UAE, which is keen to boost the number of foreign patients already visiting the country. Nasser Khalifa Al-Budoor, the Assistant Undersecretary for International Relations and Health Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Health suggested the country will become a popular destination for health tourists.

"We don’t have exact figures on the number of people coming for treatment yet, but numbers are increasing for health tourism," he said. "They trust our clinics for treatment. We have a good product with good pharmacies. The cost of medication and treatment is high and people looking for lower costs are now coming to Dubai," he added.