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China's middle class a shot in the arm for Raffles Medical

Chairman of Singapore health care provider also eyes Japan and other parts of Asia

Raffles Medical is building hospitals in Chongqing and Shanghai that are expected to open in the second half of this year and next, respectively. (Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

SINGAPORE -- Dr. Loo Choon Yong, executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group, is placing his bets on China, as the group predicts the next phase of China's growth will take the form of rising domestic consumption of goods and services, including health care.

Loo said at a media briefing on Monday China's growing middle class is willing to spend more for better medical care these days. "You see a nation where the population is over 1.3 billion, and the middle class is estimated to be around 700 million to 800 million. That's big when they start consuming," he said, adding that the Chinese government has also been encouraging domestic consumption.

The Singaporean health care provider has turned its sights toward China as it seeks to tap into that rising middle-class demand. The company is building a hospital in Chongqing that is scheduled to open in the second half of 2018, and one in Shanghai that is expected to open its doors a year later. The two facilities will add a total of more than 1,000 beds in China, and it follows the company's earlier openings of clinics in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing and Dalian.

Raffles Medical said construction of the new hospitals is on schedule. To ensure sufficient staffing at its Chinese facilities, the company is stepping up recruitment of local and international physicians, along with senior hospital managers.

Regarding a recently uncovered scandal in which a Chinese vaccine maker was found to have falsified data on thousands of doses of child vaccines, Loo stressed the need for strict quality control. "We have to make sure that the vaccines that we buy are wholesome, from the right sources and [that] the cold chain [is secure]." He pointed out that vaccines "deteriorate and they will not be efficacious by the time you use them" if improperly stored. 

The scandal, which broke in July, sent many panicked Chinese parents to Hong Kong to seek vaccinations for their children. Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology, China's second-largest maker of rabies vaccines, was discovered to have violated regulations and forged reports on 250,000 doses of rabies vaccine for humans.

In addition to China, the group is also keen to grow elsewhere in Asia. It has expanded into Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia, and has representative offices and patient liaison offices in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, Bangladesh and the Russian Far East, for patients who want to come to Singapore for treatment.

Raffles Medical also announced on Monday a net profit of 16.8 million Singapore dollars ($12.3 million) for the second quarter ended June 30, up 0.8% on the year. Its revenue inched up 0.1% to SG$120.2 million, helped by its health care services division, which gained corporate clients and a new government contract.

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