India’s medical tourism sector has been rising over the last few years, steadily becoming one of the country’s most prominent new industries.
Forecasts by the Union Ministry of Tourism project a 200 percent growth for the sector by 2020. This would make the industry worth US$9 billion. This level of growth has been sustained the last few years, with Health Issues India reporting similar predictions as far back as 2017.
Recent statements by doctors in Chennai — a city that the doctor claims attracts about 45 percent of health tourists from abroad and forty percent of domestic health tourists — suggest that the industry is particularly benefitting from an influx of medical tourists from the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region.
Chennai-based medical practitioner, Subash Udipi Rau, comments that “a large population of Indian doctors have been trained abroad and have returned to India for work. The cost of treatments in India is only one-tenth of those in the UK and the US. They are also cheaper than those in Singapore.”
The medical tourists from Gulf have sought treatment mostly for orthopaedics, cardiac, and some cosmetic treatments. “A small segment of the patients also travels to India for treatment of lifestyle diseases, including bariatric surgeries, and some cardiac-related treatments, including hypertension,” said Dr Rau.
India’s medical tourism industry is among the fastest-growing in the world. In 2016, more than 200,000 medical visas were issued, to patients from 54 different countries. Of the various nations whose citizens visit India for treatment, medical tourists from Pakistan spend the most per capita, at US$2,906.
Such growth could provide a means by which to expand and make necessary improvements to India’s healthcare infrastructure. However, the distribution of the profits and benefits of the medical tourism industry is currently shared between a select few cities. While this may improve the healthcare system in those localities by infusing them with greater levels of finance and encouraging the upgrading of facilities, it is unlikely to be of any benefit to rural areas and slums where healthcare is out of reach for many citizens.