The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has taken its toll on an unlikely victim: Indian hospitals that depend on thousands of medical tourists from the war-torn country.
India’s tourism ministry estimates that hospitals have suffered a 9-10% loss in revenue in the past month alone due to the turmoil in Afghanistan.
Private hospitals, which are already seeing lower demand for elective surgeries and other such treatments due to the pandemic, have received a second shock with patients from Afghanistan, a major contributor to India’s medical tourism industry, reducing to a trickle.
âRevenues from medical travel over the past two years have already fallen by 45%. With the ongoing unrest in Afghanistan, there has been an additional loss of around 9-10%. The pandemic has hit the medical tourism sector like any other sector, âsaid an official from the Ministry of Tourism, on condition of anonymity. Income from medical tourism is now unlikely to reach pre-covid levels until the situation in Afghanistan normalizes and international travel resumes, the official said. .
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, following a violent military campaign to overthrow the president-elect and seize Kabul. Since then, no medical tourist has traveled to India for treatment. Fortis Healthcare, one of India’s largest hospital chains that welcomes international patients, said no new patients had come from Afghanistan since August 15. âThe political unrest has had a direct impact on medical tourism. For Afghan nationals, India is a preferred health care destination where hospitals provide world class quality care at a reasonable cost. At least 8-9% of the total medical tourists coming to India are Afghans, âsaid Anil Vinayak, group operations director, Fortis Healthcare.
This particularly affected those who had already obtained medical visas and had to travel to India for scheduled consultations and surgeries, he said.
In the absence of air services, around 2,500 people arriving from Afghanistan for treatment each month in Fortis hospitals are waiting for the situation to stabilize. Most patients require treatment for cardiac, oncologic and neuro-complex procedures. âOur international business revenues have declined 9% over the past month. Visa applications from Afghanistan have decreased by 75% in one month, âVinayak said.
The situation at Max Healthcare is no different. âMax Healthcare has been seeing Afghan patients for over 15 years now. Max Hospital in Saket had an average daily attendance of 50 to 60 Afghan patients. During the covid, the number fell to around 20 per day, which started to rise again after the second wave of covid ended in early June, âsaid Anas Wajid, Senior Director and Director of Sales and Marketing, Max Healthcare . âMore than 600 patients have received visa invitation letters and are waiting for visas and flights to resume their journey to Max hospitals. After the political unrest in Afghanistan, the number of patients fell to 3-4 patients per day. This is due to the stopping of flights from Kabul to Delhi as well as the stopping of visas issued by our embassy, ââwhich is now closed, “Wajid said.
The medical tourism industry was worth $ 3 billion in 2015, according to the Tourism Ministry. The industry was slated to reach $ 9 billion by 2020, but revenues have dried up considerably due to the pandemic. Piyush Tiwari, Commercial and Marketing Director at India Tourism Development Corp. Ltd (ITDC), expects the industry to recover soon. âAs the country progresses rapidly with vaccination, cultural and medical tourism is expected to experience a better recovery in India,â he said.
India is ranked 10th on the Medical Tourism Index for 2020-2021, due to affordability, accessibility and good medical facilities. Tiwari said the key differentiator offered in India in medical tourism is the affordability of high quality treatment. âThere is a marked difference in the cost of common medical procedures in India compared to close segment competitors. In addition, India has a strong healthcare infrastructure, with many state-of-the-art healthcare facilities offering treatment in all specialties, âTiwari said.
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