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  • Low Covid Count, Ayushman Bharat Spur Medical Tourism Revival; Transplants, Oncology Biggest Pullers

    Published on December 16, 2021

    After a gap of more than one year, the influx of medical tourists to India has resumed, especially for organ transplants, oncology and cardiology, medical value travel companies.  Medical tourism companies believe that the confidence of tourists in India has grown and they anticipate better infrastructure following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ayushman Bharat initiative.

    The top countries from where the tourists have started coming include Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, African nations, Iraq, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, and Myanmar. GCC includes Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Other countries from where medical tourists have starting coming, including queries for alternative or ayurvedic treatment, are mostly Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, which include Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and others.

    “Yemen and Afghanistan are not presently stable due to internal circumstances. However, tourists from these two countries also travelled to India frequently during non-Covid period for alternative treatment therapies,” Amit Sharma, chief executive of eExpedise Healthcare. While organ transplant, oncology and cardiology are the top therapeutic categories for which the majority of tourists are arriving in India, Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore, hospital chains Fortis, Apollo and Max Healthcare across India are among the popular destinations.

    COMPETITION FROM TURKEY

    According to data from the Ministry of Tourism, India ranked as the third most popular medical tourism destination in 2015. By then, the industry was worth $3 billion and nearly 2.34 lakh patients arrived for treatment. By 2017, the number of arrivals had gone up to 4.95 lakh and India’s medical tourism industry was pegged to grow by 200% by 2020, hitting $9 billion (around Rs 68,000 crore). However, April 2020 dealt a massive blow to the industry when skies were closed due to Covid-19 pandemic, reducing revenues to nil.

    This year, from July 2021, foreign tourists have started returning. “We have been receiving many patients from Fiji Island. Also, queries from Jordan have significantly been on the higher side, apart from the usual GCC countries,” Sharma said. In the month of October, Sharma’s firm brought 60 patients for medical treatment in India. The number of medical tourists increased in November to more than 100. During December, the company expects the arrival of more than 150 patients.

    According to Mihir Vora, CEO of Mumbai-based medical tourism firm Magnus Medi, India already lost a lot of business to Turkey during the pandemic. “Last two years have been a rollercoaster ride. When we started recovering, the Delta variant came in, and now again when we are recovering, fear of Omicron has come,” Vora added, advising that the government should avoid complete ban on flights, allowing medical tourists on priority basis. If everything remains constant, in the next three months, the industry expects the business to be back to normal level. “In pre-Covid days, we used to welcome on average 200 patients every month. By February-March, we expect to reach there, assuming Covid-19 remains at the same levels.”

    GOVT PROMOTING INDIA AS SAFE DESTINATION ABROAD

    According to the industry, the Modi government has been promoting India as a safe destination for medical procedures in foreign countries which has been helping in the revival. The launch of Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission has also played a crucial role. “Since May, the Indian government via High Commissions and Embassies has been helping us promote India as a safe destination in foreign countries,” said Vinay Aggarwal, managing director of Shinon Global. “The government announced that the Covid-19 cases are going down in India, apart from easing the visa requirements.” The launch of a health infrastructure scheme with a budget of over Rs 64,000 crore has helped in boosting the trust among medical tourists, industry veterans believe. “While India is still popular among medical tourists for skilled medical fraternity and reasonable costs, the launch of this scheme has boosted confidence in stronger infrastructure and intent to improve it even further,” Sharma said.

    Aggarwal from Shinon Global added that while Ayushman Bharat is a great initiative and will give the much-needed boost to the industry, the government should involve medical value travel industry players in drafting the strategy for medical tourists.

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