There are two things that worry almost every patient from Islamic countries who come to Indian hospitals: the meat they eat and the direction of Mecca. With more than 75% of the medical tourists being from the Middle East, hospitals are eyeing 'halal' certification to make them feel at home.
On Monday, Chennai-based Global Health City said it has became the first in the country to receive the 'halal' certification from the Halal Development Authority. The certification would mean they get 'halal' meat in food and have 'quiblah' (the direction of Mecca) signs in every room and prayer hall. Muslims offer prayers facing 'quiblah.'
At least five leading hospital groups in the country including Apollo Hospitals and Fortis are in talks with the authority, said Halal India general manager Mohamed Noman Lateef. In Chennai, Mehta Hospitals and Lifeline Hospitals have also sent applications for the certification.
Halal India, is an independent Halal Certification body which is recognised by the Indian government and deals with certification of food, cosmetics and drugs as per the Shariah law. Halal is anything that is legal or lawful for Muslims. In terms of meat, halal applies to the kind of meat (pork is banned), their health condition and the way they are killed. The butcher must make a recitation to God and cut the jugular vein, carotid artery and the windpipe with a sharp knife. The animal can't be stunned before it is killed.
To ensure the meat used in the Global hospital's kitchen is 'halal,' officials from Halal India visited the slaughter house from where the meat is purchased. "It's not just about food or prayer hall, it's about lifestyle. For any Muslim it is important that any business performed in their daily lives is clean, hygienic and not detrimental to either their health or wellbeing as specified in the religious text. In that sense, it is a new benchmark for quality," said Halal India business development manager Sheetal Bajaj.
Hospital chairman Dr K Ravindranath said Halal certification was a form of approval that boosts patients' confidence. "To earn the certification, Global Health City had to meet strict Islamic guidelines dealing with hygiene and dietary regulations of global standards." The hospital's international business vice-president M Zakariah Ahmed said after Joint Commission International (JCI) this would be one of the biggest certification process hospitals in the country are aiming for.
Every room will also have a sticker that gives the exact direction of Mecca. "I tell every patient the food is halal. But I feel they would be happy to see the certification," said Global Hospital's international patients executive Vireesh Singh. "We tell them that we make public announcements for prayer and ensure that we give women a separate place during prayer," he said.
Transplant surgeon Dr Madhu Shankar agrees. "People from the Middle East have a different culture. We don't enter the female patient's room without their permission. A female nurse will walk in first and seek permission for a male doctor's entry," he said.