Arab nations high on India’s thriving medical tourism agenda

Aftab Husain Kola
Aftab Husain Kola - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Buoyed by the good response for medical tourism India has received in the last few years, the government, the Confederate of Indian Industries (CII), the hospitals and other stakeholders are drawing plans and promotions to attract more foreign patients to its land. And Arab nations are high on its agenda.

India’s Niti Aayog (formerly Planning Commission), a government policy think-tank, which identifies medical value travel (MVT) as a major source of foreign exchange earnings is currently working out a roadmap to ensure significant growth by 2020.

Projections for medical tourism in India is estimated at $8 billion opportunity by 2020. With the Indian medical industry currently pegged at $4 billion, the country’s share is around 18 percent of the global medical tourism market estimated at around $40-60 billion and is believed to be growing at 15 percent.

The Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India for medical purpose during 2015, 2016 and 2017 were 2,33,918; 4,27,014 and 4,95,056 (provisional) respectively.

Though India’s neighbors Bangladesh and Afghanistan continue to be the top countries from where the maximum number foreign tourist arrivals (for medical purpose) but India foresees big rise in such patients from Arab countries like Iraq, Oman, Yemen, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Besides allopathy, India also enjoys high credibility in wellness, preventive, and alternative medicine. India is a cradle to a wide range of alternative medicine techniques such as Ayurveda, Sidha, Unani, Yoga, Acupuncture and Homeopathy, which are very popular among foreigners. Such treatment opportunities give India the edge over its competitors in the region.

The percentage of foreign tourist arrivals in India for medical treatment is showing an upward projectile over the years and growing rapidly since year 2010. Oman is the biggest market for medical tourism among Gulf countries followed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

A cardiac surgeon visiting one-month-old Abdulla (L) from Bahrain, who underwent cardiac surgery at the Frontier Lifeline Hospital in Chennai on March 26, 2014. (File photo: AFP)
A cardiac surgeon visiting one-month-old Abdulla (L) from Bahrain, who underwent cardiac surgery at the Frontier Lifeline Hospital in Chennai on March 26, 2014. (File photo: AFP)

Recently a delegation comprising of doctors and marketing officials from 13 hospitals sent by Confederation of Indian Industry Kerala Chapter to Oman, conducted an outpatient service as part of the roadshow and exhibition in Muscat.

At the ATM 2018 held recently in Dubai, about 20 participants from India, representing the travel trade and wellness tourism had its presence felt at its India Pavilion set up by the Ministry of Tourism. There was a fantastic response from the local Arabs who look at India as a favorable destination for medical tourism.

Says Anvar Husain, manager, Branding & Communication and Medical Value Travel for Calicut-based Aster MIMS, said: “Our package includes pre-hospital screening at the country of residence (Aster DM Healthcare which has presence in 9 countries), visa liaising, flight ticket, proposed management cost to the whole package etc.”

International desk

Husain’s company has set up an exclusive international desk that offers a single window arrangement for foreign national patients.

Speaking about GCC patients, Husain said: “Only recently a patient by the name of Juma Rashid from Oman was successfully operated for bilateral total knee replacement while Naif from Abu Dhabi was successfully treated for heart issues.

Aster MIMS get an average of 600-700 patients a month from which Oman has 70 percent contribution and 10 percent each from UAE and Saudi Arabia. And the rest 10 percent is contributed by other Arab countries like Kuwait, Yemen, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain etc. and some African countries like Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, etc.

“We get patients mostly in general health check, orthopedics, gastro-surgery, oncology and neurology and neuro surgery. After treatment, most of them show interest in sightseeing as they have heard a lot about the beauty of Kerala. For such people, we arrange the sightseeing tours to place like Wayanad, Munnar, etc through our associated tour operators,” says Anvar.

In an interview to a newspaper recently, Apollo Hospitals group’s chairman, Prathap C. Reddy said: “Apollo brought the first medical value traveler to India. Today, over 350,000 persons from over 150 countries visit India every year for treatment. [Data presented in the Lok Sabha earlier this year indicated that the Ministry of Tourism’s estimate was 427,000 people in 2017.] People now know that in India they can get the best quality of care at a mere fraction of the cost they have to pay abroad.”

According to Dr. Mohammed Mukhtar, Head of Business Development & Empanelment, Apollo Health & Lifestyle, Hyderabad, “Apollo Hospitals across India provide treatment for all the ailments using state-of-the-art technology including a Beating Heart surgery, organ transplants, cardiac treatment, robotic and radiosurgery system, Cyber Knife for patients from across the globe. GCC account for 25 percent of the medical tourism patients who visit us quality and affordable healthcare.”

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