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India’s medical tourism industry

May 18, 2010 - Travel Wire Asia

India’s hospitals and doctors hope for an onslaught of the lame and the halt, writes Asia Sentinel’s Neeta Lal 

Almost a decade after it was originally envisioned as a major phenomenon, medical tourism in India is beginning to take off. More and more people across the globe are eschewing expensive treatments or long waits at hospitals at home for the benefits offered by cheaper countries like India, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore and combining a tummy tuck, say with a visit to the Taj Mahal or the beaches and misty mountains of Kerala.

Although India had fallen behind other countries after the initial promise, two studies say health tourism is projected to be the next big thing after India’s IT outsourcing boom. A 2009 report by the Confederation of Industries (CII)-McKinsey forecasts that, medical tourism will generate US$2.4 billion during 2009–2012 for India by attracting 1.1 million health tourists, up from 150,000 in 2002. 

Though the Indian segment is still a sliver of the US$60-billion global medical tourism market, the consultancy firm Deloitte estimates the country’s business will grow at a robust clip of 27 per cent each year. The reason for its attraction for Indian industry and turismis not far to seek. According to the Ministry Of Tourism, as against an ordinary vacationer per-capita spend of US$3,000 per visitor, the average medical tourist in India puts out more than $7,000 per visit. 

Leading Indian medical experts ascribe this exponential growth to demand. “With health care costs going north,” says Dr Alok Roy of Fortis Hospital, one of the leading service providers in the medical tourism sector, “patients are compelled to look at cost-effective destinations for medical treatments. And what could be better if they can combine that with sightseeing at scenic locations?” 

Delhi-based physian Narottam Puri believes the current expensive and overburdened health care system in the US is not sustainable due to a variety of factors. 

“India, on the contrary,” Puri says, “is a value-for-money destination for health care because we produce over 30,000 new doctors each year combined with a diverse genetic pool for drug testing.” 

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