More than two years of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have drastically affected the country’s once-booming medical tourism, with major private hospitals in Delhi admitting they have yet to see a return in international foot traffic. patients to pre-pandemic levels, especially since the regime change in Afghanistan, the economic crisis in Sri Lanka and the rise in the value of the dollar.
Private hospitals said that while the number of international patients seeking medical care in India was slowly increasing, they had only managed to reach 75-80% of the pre-pandemic number.
Until 2020, India was a top destination for international patients seeking complicated surgeries due to credibility, shorter waiting time and relatively lower expenses, doctors at Delhi hospitals said.
Dr. Anupam Sibal, Apollo Hospitals Group Medical Director and Senior Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, the group received international patients from Bangladesh, India. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Nepal and the Philippines for inpatient and outpatient treatment.
“The influx of international patients is picking up again. Their numbers are back to around 80% of pre-pandemic levels, and will increase further as Covid cases continue to fall across the world,” Dr Sibal said.
According to the Medical Tourism Index, prepared by the Medical Tourism Association, India ranked third in 2015 and 10th in 2020-2021 among the top 46 countries “as the most preferred destination for medical care in worldwide”.
Central government figures show that there are currently about 38 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospitals and over 350 National Accreditation for Hospitals (NABH) accredited hospitals in India.
A report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) pointed out that treatment in India is up to 50% cheaper compared to facilities in the United States or Europe, and that the death rate is also lower than that of the United States.
Before Covid-19 hit, the medical tourism market in India was estimated at around $9 billion ( ₹68,400 crores), up from $3 billion in 2015. The study showed that India’s share of the global medical tourism market was 18%, and is expected to increase to 20% by 2020.
According to data from the Union Ministry of Tourism, in 2014 more than 140,000 patients came to India for treatment and the number reached 400,000 in 2018. Navin Pascal, Regional Head (Sales) at the Hospital Manipal, Dwarka, said before Covid, about 10-15% of the hospital’s total revenue came from international patients.
“This has dropped to zero due to international travel and visa restrictions. After international flights resumed, our volumes returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, we continue to face challenges due to a stalemate in key source markets such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen due to political factors and rising dollar rates,” Pascal said. .
Dr Ritu Garg, director of growth and innovation at Fortis Healthcare, said that apart from Covid and the resulting travel restrictions, medical tourism in the country has also been affected by the change in regime. in Afghanistan.
A central government estimate showed that Afghan nationals accounted for 8-9% of the country’s medical tourism market in 2018 and 2019. Although this market has been completely closed since the regime change in September 2021, the influx of patients from countries such as Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and some African countries have increased.