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Medical tourists aren't scared of India's superbug

For under-insured Westerners looking for cheap health care abroad, the risk is simply worth it.

Raleigh, N.C.,-based IndUShealth, a provider of medical tourism programs to U.S.-based employers and under-insured Americans, said its corporate subscriber base has continued to demonstrate unabated interest in pursuing the India option for medical treatments. One corporate client has sent 60 of its plan's subscribers to India since 2008.

“Several more of their subscribers are in process to go in the coming weeks and none have asked to cancel plans due to the superbug scare,” said Rajesh Rao, CEO of IndUShealth.

Indian health officials have downplayed news of the superbug since the respected medical journal Lancet published its existence in August. Officials have called the research "alarmist," and said naming it after New Delhi was intended to hurt India’s burgeoning medical tourism industry.

“HIV originated in America so can we say AmericaNMD or something like that?” asked India's minister of state for health, Dinesh Trivedi.

“There is nothing new in the Lancet report, we have been dealing with the most resistant type of bacteria during our research,” said Janakiraman Ramachandran, chairman of Gangagen, a U.S.-based medical therapeutics firm.

Westerners will continue to swarm to India to take advantage of the cheaper services, he said.

India’s medical tourism industry, which includes sparkling, clean hospitals that resembles those in the West, contrasts with the squalor just outside the hospital gates.

Meece, the American patient who was in India for the first time, said she heard about the superbug after she had already firmed up her plans to seek health care in India. She and her husband researched the subject and decided that the 37 cases of infection mentioned in the Lancet article were not enough to scare them away.

Lying in her hospital bed, Meece said she was satisfied with the hygiene standards at Fortis’ hospital. She said a dozen members of the cleaning staff go in and out of her room all day, scrubbing, scouring, washing, wiping and dusting.

Schaubroeck, who is recovering in Bangalore, said the risks of medicine are not isolated to India.

“Our insurance company did not force us to go to India," he said. "They were willing to share their savings with us. I decided, why not?"