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Steep rise in medical visas as India becomes medical tourism hub

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-07-2017 Neetu Chandra Sharma

New Delhi: The number of medical visas issued by India rose 45% in 2016 from the year before, data presented by the home affairs ministry in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday showed, an indication that India is rapidly becoming a hub of medical treatment for foreigners.

India issued more than 1.78 lakh medical visas in 2016, including for follow up treatment, as against 1.22 lakh in 2015, according to the data.

In 2014, there were 184,298 Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA), in 2015 the number was 233,918 which jumped to 361,060 in 2016, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

A Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) report titled “India Services Sector—A Multi-trillion Dollar Opportunity for Global Symbiotic Growth 2017” 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% of that in developed countries.

“Majority of the patients coming to India for treatment are from the Middle East, Africa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. India’s cost advantage will significantly open doors to the US and Europe over future, due to lower cost than the US and almost half that of Europe.”

Dental tourism accounts for 10% of the medical tourism and the government is keen to promote it. “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 $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.

The ministry of tourism has recently released revised guidelines for the promotion of wellness and medical as niche tourism product. 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, for Publicity, organising workshops/events/seminars and for organising Wellness and Medical Tourism Promotion shows.

There is also a growing demand for Indian medical talent and know-how in geographies that are lacking in advanced medical infrastructure, and several players in African countries are approaching Indian players to help them set up and run hospitals, both as advisors as well as O&M partners. This is adding to the ‘exports’ bucket, the CII report said.

India now has a simplified e-medical visa facility which allows three visits to the country. Dr. Mahesh Sharma, minister of state for tourism and culture, recently said at a medical tourism summit that the government is trying to address more issues in the time to come, such as standardization and accreditation of services.

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