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Authors

Colin Shah
Colin Shah
Shri P.R. Aqeel Ahmed
Shri P.R. Aqeel Ahmed
Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar
Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar
Alok Kirloskar
Alok Kirloskar
Pragati Khare
Pragati Khare
Devang Mody
Devang Mody
Vinay Kalantri
Vinay Kalantri
Varun Aggarwal
Varun Aggarwal
Erich Nesselhauf
Erich Nesselhauf
Ghanshyam Lal Vyas
Ghanshyam Lal Vyas
Mr Siddhartha Sacheti
Mr Siddhartha Sacheti
Satish Kannan
Satish Kannan

India Emerging as a Medical Tourism Hub

India Emerging as a Medical Tourism Hub

Introduction
Medical tourism has seen increased traction where people are travelling across international borders to seek healthcare services. Activities that involve a foreign tourist travelling and staying at least one night at the destination for rejuvenating, restoring or maintaining health via medical intervention can be defined as medical tourism.

Since the last decade of the 20th century, India has emerged as a global leader in the medical tourism sector. According to estimates from the Ministry of Tourism, India witnessed 186,644 Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) for medical purposes in 2020, accounting for 7% of the total FTAs. The primary reasons why people travel for medical purposes include the low cost of treatment abroad, cultural aspect of the healthcare provider, common language and specific procedures not available in the domestic country.

Why is India gaining momentum?
Over the past 30 years, India’s healthcare sector has made great strides as seen by the significant advancements it has achieved. Healthcare has been one of the biggest contributors to revenue and is growing at a fast pace. Public and private providers both contribute to the healthcare sector. National health policies have played a vital role over the past few years to create a more inclusive healthcare system, while aiming to achieve a Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in a structured manner.

India has highly qualified medical professionals and state-of-the-art equipment. The medical services and facilities are backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA). Moreover, India offers less expensive treatment options compared to the US and UK without compromising the quality of healthcare services. The treatment costs in India are around a quarter of those in America.

Comparison of prices of common medical procedures in India with other nations for Medical Value Travel (MVT) (in US$)

Medical Procedure

India

High*

Low*

Heart Bypass

7,900

26,000

7,900

Angioplasty

5,700

17,700

4,200

Heart Valve Replacement

9,500

39,990

9,500

Hip Replacement

7,200

21,000

7,200

Hip Resurfacing

9,700

19,500

9,700

Knee Replacement

6,600

17,500

6,600

Spinal Fusion

10,300

16,900

6,000

Dental Implant

900

2,700

900

Lap Band

7,300

11,500

7,300

Gastric Sleeve

6,000

12,900

6,000

Gastric Bypass

7,000

16,800

7,000

Hysterectomy

3,200

10,400

3,200

Breast Implant

3,000

8,400

3,000

Rhinoplasty

2,400

3,980

2,200

Rhytidectomy

3,500

6,700

440

Liposuction

2,800

3,000

2,500

Abdominoplasty

3,500

5,300

3,500

Lasik (both eyes)

1,000

3,800

1,000

IVF Treatment

2,500

14,900

2,500

Source: NITI Aayog; Note: *High and Low prices are across major destinations for MVT including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey and South Korea

In terms of alternate medical treatment, the Indian medical treatment systems of yoga, ayurveda, rejuvenation therapy and panchakarma are among the most ancient methods of medical treatment in the world. The southern state of Kerala has developed medical tourism services as one of its core products for promoting tourism in the region.

Based on the Medical Tourism Index 2020-21, India is ranked 10th out of the top 46 countries, 12th out of the world’s top 20 wellness tourism markets and 5th out of 10 wellness tourism destinations in Asia-Pacific. India boasts of 39 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited and 657 National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) accredited hospitals.

Initiatives by the Government of India
The Ministry of Tourism has taken several initiatives to promote India’s medical tourism industry.

  • Special provision has been made for tourists travelling to India for healthcare purposes. The Ministry of Home Affairs has introduced a new category of visa, Medical Visa, that can be issued to foreigners travelling to India for healthcare reasons.
  • In 2018, the government established a dedicated fund of US$ 641 million for enhancing 12 Champion Services Sectors, with MVT being one of them. The e-tourist visa launched in September 2014 to ease the visa regime was subsequently expanded to include medical visits.
  • The Marketing Development Assistance Scheme (MDA) offers financial assistance to approved tourism service providers.
  • Publicity materials, such as brochures and CDs, intended to promote medical and health tourism have been circulated in target markets by the Ministry of Tourism. Medical tourism has been announced on various international forums including ITP Berlin and World Travel Mart.

The government has implemented various initiatives to push India’s rise as a hub of medical tourism through promotion of ayurveda, yoga and other Indian systems of medicine in the international market. About US$ 381 million has been allocated for the Ministry of AYUSH in the Union Budget 2021-22 compared to the US$ 272 million allocated in the 2020-21 budget. In May 2022, Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, Central Minister of Health, Family Welfare, and Chemicals and Fertilizers, addressed the roundtable conference on Building Brand India in New Delhi. He highlighted how India is establishing itself as the focal point of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH). Prime Minister Narendra Modi also recently announced plans to launch the AYUSH Mark. This mark will provide credibility to AYUSH products in India and promote India’s medical tourism sector. He also pointed out that for ayurveda treatment, the provision of medical visa and medical attendant visa has been made with 165 countries.

COVID-19 and its Impact
During the nationwide lockdown in India due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, planned hospital operations dropped by as much as 80% while unplanned systems reduced by 66%.

The healthcare industry, supported by the Government of India, undertook a robust response plan to tackle the pandemic. Dedicated COVID-19 hospitals and isolation centres were set up, and tech-enabled mapping of resources was initiated. The Indian government also leveraged technology to deal with the pandemic and developed various applications. The Aarogya Setu app was used throughout the country to enhance syndromic mapping and contact tracing while also assisting in self-assessment of the infection. In addition to fulfilling its domestic needs, India rose to the occasion and supported other countries during these torrid times. During the Union Budget 2021-22, the government proposed an outlay of US$ 28.7 billion for health and well-being, up 137% from the previous year, with US$ 4.5 billion earmarked for COVID-19 vaccination.

After the pandemic, several healthcare players have set up additional facilities to cater to critical care or provide specialty services. Renowned hospitals in India are raising funds aggressively to fulfil their expansion plans.

Can India create a hub for medical tourism?
To make India a brand in the medical tourism sector, what India needs, according to Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, is a system to obtain feedback/testimonials from tourists travelling to the country for medical purposes. He stated that a ‘one-step’ portal is expected to be introduced that will add to the convenience and provide credible information for medical tourists coming to India. Additionally, the number of JCI accredited hospitals is growing substantially. Critical factors such as trained medical professionals and doctors, fluency in english, availability of the latest medical technology and affordable medical treatment have helped India emerge as a hub for medical tourism. India has potential to deliver a world-class experience and, indeed, invite the world to its Heal in India initiative.

 

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