Editorial Articles

Issue no 26, 24-30 September 2022

Medical Tourism Taking India's Healing Touch To The World

Shri Avinash Mishra

Madhubanti Dutta

 India has established a rock-solid foothold as the 'Global Medical Destination' by attracting the entire world's attention and trust on its high-end healthcare ecosystem and world-class medical facilities. The integral philosophy of Indian hospitality is 'Atithi Devo Bhava' (guest is akin to God). With this in mind, Indians believe in going out of the way in treating their guests with the same reverence as God.

What is Medical Tourism?

 The term 'medical tourism' refers to planned international travel to receive cutting-edge medical care. Medical tourists cross international borders to maintain, enhance, or restore their health by utilizing affordable healthcare services and procedures available in other countries. Medical tourism's primary benefits include improved healthcare, ground-breaking medications, sophisticated technologies, improved hospitality, and personalized treatment.

India's Position on Medical Tourism Map

Medical tourism is one of India's fastestgrowing industries, which has experienced exponential growth in recent years, and is predicted to have substantial growth in the years to come. India is the ideal destination for medical value tourism because India offers a distinct amalgamation of a holistic health and wellness ecosystem and its myriad opportunities. India is currently ranked 12th in terms of inbound medical tourism spending, which is a result of the country's strong and supportive government policies, which include the adoption of 'Medical Visa' and focused marketing campaigns. To make traveling smoother for medical tourists, a new category of 'Medical Visa' has been introduced as part of a policy that the Indian Ministry of Tourism has developed to encourage tourists seeking to come to India for medical counseling and treatment. At the moment, visitors can fill an online application form, pay the requisite fee online, and get a digital copy of their Medical eVisa.

The following figure represents the number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India on Medical Visa which has shown a growth of around 41% from 2017 (4.95 lakhs) to 2019 (6.95 lakhs). As the figure reflects, in 2020 (1.83 lakhs), the footfalls of foreign tourists reduced significantly, mainly due to the pandemic. Subsequently, in 2021 (3.04 lakhs), the footfalls again started increasing for medical purposes in India.

According to the Bureau of Immigration, Govt. of India, the top countries from where foreign tourists arrived in India for medical purposes in 2020 include Iraq (93.4%), Maldives (76.1%), Yemen (69.9%), Nigeria (53.1%), Afghanistan (34%), Sudan (30.3%) and Oman (28%). MEDICAL TOURISM TAKING INDIA'S HEALING TOUCH TO THE WORLD Continued on page.

India's Competitive Edge

India offers various advantages in the field of medical tourism but the most important ones are as follows:

·         India is a popular destination that offers various tourist attractions, historical landmarks, pilgrimage sites, fine handicrafts, unique fairs and exhibitions in different regions. As a result, there are always possibilities of combining pleasure and recreation with medical rejuvenation.

·         The main criteria that travelers seek in medical tourism is 'more for less', i.e., they seek high-end medical facilities at affordable rates. There is a common perception that as compared to many wealthy countries, India provides value for money to medical tourists.

·         India is one of the world's fastest-growing hubs for information technology (IT). IT has become the backbone of the healthcare industry. Hence, the IT boom has triggered demand and accessibility, thus, boosting medical tourism.

·         The initiatives undertaken by the public and private sectors offer a variety of services, including easy and smooth accessibility to Medical Visas, frequent flights and other modes of domestic transportation systems to travel to and fro, affordable tour packages tailored to travelers' needs, more accessibility to the internet and other communication facilities, availability of certified drugs and medicines within easy reach, adding to the advantage in medical tourism.

Government Initiatives to Boost Medical Tourism

·         'Heal in India' & 'Heal by India': The Hon'ble Prime Minister has an optimistic vision for the country's potential to become a global center for medical tourism, serving and saving millions of lives every year. He established the goal of the 'Heal in India' campaign to further promote medical tourism, with all the macro elements favoring significant investments into the Indian medical tourism sector. This allows our medical workforce to travel the globe and contribute to a healthy global society. India is committed to developing its traditional medicine sector and promoting the 'Heal in India' and 'Heal by India' initiatives to become a global hub for medical value. Z

·          AYUSH Visa/eVisa: India is working towards the creation of a new category for AYUSH Visa/eVisa. It is a component of the 'Heal in India' campaign, which advocates for conventional medical travel. The Prime Minister announced the launch of a special category of AYUSH Visa for tourists coming to India for AYUSH medical tourism, education, or treatment, including Yoga, during the opening ceremony of the "Global AYUSH Investment and Innovation Summit" held on April 20, 2022, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. While modalities are being worked out for rolling out the AYUSH Visa for persons traveling to India from other nations to receive Ayurvedic treatment, 165 countries have made medical and attendant Visa provisions for receiving Ayurvedic medicine. z

·         National Strategy and Roadmap for Medical and Wellness Tourism: The Ministry of Tourism's strategy document on medical tourism focuses on the following key points: (i) Develop a brand for India as a wellness destination (ii) Strengthen the ecosystem for medical and wellness tourism (iii) Enable digitalization by setting up an Online Medical Value Travel (MVT) portal (iv) Enhancement of accessibility for Medical Value Travel (v) Promoting wellness tourism (vi) Strengthening governance and institutional framework.

·         Publicity and Promotion: To provide a dedicated institutional framework to promote medical tourism, the government has constituted the National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board. As part of its ongoing activities, the government releases global reports, both printable and electronic, and online media campaigns that are essential for promotion overseas under the 'Incredible India' brand line. This helps to promote various tourism destinations and products of the country. Moreover, the Government provides financial assistance under Market Development Assistance Scheme to Medical Tourism Service Providers accredited by NABH for participation in Medical/ Tourism Fairs, Medical Conferences, Wellness Conferences, Wellness Fairs, and allied Road Shows.

Globalization of Medical Tourism Market

India has a long and illustrious medical history dating back to the Vedic era. Ayurveda, one of the earliest systems of medicine, may be traced back to 8000 BCE. Numerous medical specialties have emerged, including Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa, and Homoeopathy. Yoga and meditation have also grown in prominence and are now well recognized for their positive effects on health. India has developed a distinctive ecosystem for holistic health that blends the finest of contemporary healthcare, alternative medicine, and wellness in the wake of its independence as the country has advanced dramatically in modern medicine.

Over the past few decades, new healthcare service production and consumption patterns have emerged due to the expansion of international trade in medical technology, capital funding, and regulatory frameworks. The medical systems practiced in India, including Ayurveda, Yoga, Panchakarma, Rejuvenation Therapy, etc., are some of the oldest in the world. India can offer affordable, highend medical and health services. The primary purpose is achieving, promoting, or maintaining good health and a sense of wellbeing. Kerala, one of the Southern Indian states, has established stellar health and healing facilities as significant products to promote tourism. Ayurvedic Centers are becoming a common feature of newgeneration hotels and resorts. Most international visitors now solely travel to India for Ayurvedic treatment and rejuvenation. The top tourism companies have Ayurvedic treatments listed in their brochures. If appropriate attention is paid to health and medical tourism, the growth of this sector may considerably escalate. Listed below are some of the emerging facts about India's medical tourism sector:

·         India boasts of high-grade medical professionals and facilities.

·         The cost of the treatment is far lower than it would be in the source markets.

·         Various medical procedures do not have a long waiting period. 

·         Eastern healthcare knowledge combined with Western medical knowledge is becoming more and more attractive compared to Western tourism destinations.

On the government's recommendation, the Indian Healthcare Federation, a non-profit organization affiliated to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), has created a guide on specific Indian hospitals nationwide for 'health tourism' purposes. For further promotion, it has been posted on the Ministry of Tourism's website, www.incredibleindia.org. The Ministry of Tourism has created brochures, CDs, and other publicity materials to promote medical and health tourism, and these items have been widely distributed for exposure in target areas. Medical and health tourism has been primarily marketed at numerous international venues, like World Travel Mart in London and ITP Berlin. All State Governments have received a copy of the accreditation standards for Ayurvedic and Panchkarma centers for implementation. For more exposure, these have been posted on the Ministry of Tourism website, www.incredibleindia. org.

Under the 'Incredible India Campaign' of the Ministry of Tourism, Yoga, Ayurveda, and Wellness have been promoted during the past two years in print, electronic, online, and outdoor media. The Indian Healthcare Federation, brings together pharmaceutical, medical equipment, and non-government hospitals and diagnostic facilities. The Federation's primary goal is to support and advance the nation's healthcare business. It aims to serve as a conduit for communication between the government, healthcare providers, suppliers of medical equipment, and other healthcare organizations.

India is ranked third among the top 10 nations in the Asia Pacific for health, making it essential in Medical Value Tourism (MVT). Medical Value Tourism from an Indian perspective offers comprehensive health and welfare and spreads the richness of Indian hospitality via the merging essence of its food, nature, and culture. Remarkably, India may be the only nation with a whole Ministry devoted to complementary medicine, anti-aging treatments, and Yoga. A deliberate effort is being made to move the world's population away from the cycle of illness and treatment and toward a lifestyle of preventative and holistic health, including mental, bodily, and spiritual well-being. MVT is founded on a knowledge of the behavior of the 21stcentury citizen when seeking health, as opposed to healthcare. Ayurveda, Yoga, and meditation remain today's timeless pillars of Indian wellness tourism. Significant attempts are being made to revitalize and promote alternative remedies and stressrelieving and rejuvenation therapies.

The Way Forward

A new paradigm in the healthcare industry allows the government to act as a facilitator with sensible trade laws to guarantee a seamless value chain. Policymakers must concentrate on Indian healthcare establishments that welcome medical tourists from underdeveloped nations who come for skillful operations, with cost and surgical competency of utmost importance. The administrative authorities need to start training programs to develop their capacity in the medical tourism industry. By expanding their healthcare services internationally, private hospitals can collaborate with foreign embassies to influence policy and attract financially supported medical tourists. India has a diverse portfolio of niche tourism products - cruises, adventure, medical, wellness, sports, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions), ecotourism, films, rural and religious tourism.

 It is significant to emphasize that Medical Value Tourism encompasses many other therapeutic methods, such as yoga and spiritual retreats, and is not just for wellbeing. For these particular getaways, many tourists from different countries travel to India. Several places in India, including Uttarakhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Goa, and Karnataka, already provide Yoga, meditation, and health retreats. With the Ayush Visa set to be implemented in the coming days, India may anticipate an increase in foreign travelers, moving towards new Medical Value Travel locations.

The government is improving medical tourism through exhibitions, trade fairs, and affiliations with international organizations. When hospital management is directly involved in promoting services globally, in that case, there will be little room for further doubt in the minds of prospective medical professionals, and the healthcare sectors will prosper effectively. The varying roles that stakeholders have played over the years have resulted in significant changes in medical tourism. The increased competition has attracted a variety of additional players to the industry. Policymakers, the local community, and other private players have primarily contributed to the internationalization of Indian healthcare systems. The process of creating capacity can be improved by becoming more proficient at providing healthcare services and having a less complicated healthcare network. Quality and standard assurance are vital criteria for evaluating medical institutes' potential for success.

 (The authors are Adviser and Young Professional respectively at NITI Aayog (Tourism) E-mail: duttamad hubanti89@gmail.com.)

Views expressed are personal.