India issued hundreds and thousands of medical visas in 2016 to foreign tourists who also returned for follow up treatments to the country taking benefit of the visa that allows them three visits on account of medical purposes.
India saw a 45 pc increase in the number of tourists visiting the country for medical purposes in 2015. Minister of State for Tourism and Culture Mahesh Sharma revealed that there was an increase of 127,142 foreign patients during 2016 in comparison to 2015 .
Sharma also revealed to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, of the statistics of foreign patients in India for the past three years. While the year 2014 saw 184,298 medical tourists, 2015 had 233,918 patients come in and 2016 saw 361,060 people.
Wellness tourism and medical tourism have been established as a niche tourism product by the Ministry of Tourism, which has also released guidelines for their promotion.
“As per the guidelines, the ministry offers financial support to accredited Medical and Wellness Tourism Service Providers, chambers of commerce and other organisations as marketing development assistance,” said Sharma.
According to Sharma, tourism products, including medical and wellness tourism, are mostly driven by the private sector and costs of such services are determined by market forces. Recently India has seen a good growth in terms of issuance of medical visas indicating top-notch medical facilities and treatments available at an affordable fee.
A report titled ‘India Services Sector—A Multi-Trillion Dollar Opportunity for Global Symbiotic Growth 2017’ by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), stated that the presence of world-class hospitals and skilled medical professionals has strengthened India’s position as a preferred destination for medical tourism. Treatment for major surgeries in India costs only a fraction — in some cases as low as 10 pc of that in developed countries.
India sees majority of patients come in from the Middle East, Africa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka; and it is speculated that the competitive costs that are available in India for various treatments will soon attract medical tourists from the United States of America (US) and Europe.
“India provides competitive cost advantage at one tenth of the cost of the US and Europe. By 2020, medical tourism industry of India is expected to touch USD 8 billion,” the report said.
“Government’s support for medical tourism is appreciated. Various medical areas are sought after in India. When it comes to cosmetic surgeries, doctors are surely doing great work in India. We get patients from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Kuwait, UAE, Mauritius, Maldives, Turkey, etc., for treatments like skin allergies, vitiligo, hair loss, pigmentation, etc., and its numbers are surely on the rise annually,” said Dr Dipali Bhardwaj, a Delhi-based dermatologist to the President’s Estate Clinic.
With a simplified e-medical visa facility, which allows three visits to the country and with the government trying to address more issues such as standardisation and accreditation of services, India is perhaps set to see an escalated response in medical tourism.