West Asia focus on healthcare slows India’s medical tourism

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Region was once the biggest market for Indian hospitals

The increasing focus by Gulf countries in setting up their own healthcare infrastructure has started reflecting in the medical travel traffic from the region to India. Once the biggest source market for Indian hospitals, the travel volumes from the region are growing slower than that from Saarc nations and African continent.

“Four to five years back, GCC used to account for a major portion of the international patients in many of the Indian hospitals. The trend is however changing and their numbers are dwindling,” said C Chandrasekhar, executive director of Global Hospitals.

For Fortis Healthcare, currently Africa is the largest source market, contributing 40 per cent to the international patients and in case of Apollo Hospitals it is the Saarc region, accounting for 40 per cent of international patients.

“Patients from the Saarc region are growing by 20 to 25 per cent, whereas GCC is growing at a rate of 10 to 15 per cent. The slowing growth in volumes could be mainly due to the advanced healthcare infrastructure that has been coming up in the region in the recent years. These hospitals are meeting the specialty care needs of the region. However, for high-end procedures like transplants, super-specialties and specialties like oncology, the region still depends on Indian hospitals,” said Jithu Jose, GM, International Patients Division, Apollo Hospitals.

Kuwait is one of the leading countries in the region to come up with an extensive hospital investment scheme of over $8 billion on hospital projects by 2016. With world’s first integrated health care zone – Dubai Healthcare City – UAE too has been making huge investments in the sector. Countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have been also wooing the patients in the GCC.

“The affluent in the GCC continue to travel to Europe for medical care; Thailand too has been attracting patients from the region for medical as well as tourism needs. The huge non-resident Indian population, however, come to India for procedures that can be postponed for a while,” said Arvind Singhal, chairman of Technopak Advisors.

Nevertheless, a recent study by Technopak projects that the number of international patients visiting Indian hospitals will grow 100 per cent from six lakh in 2010 to 12 lakh by 2015.

The growth is expected to come mainly from the Saarc region and Africa. According to Anas Abdul Wajid, head, sales and international, Fortis Healthcare, traffic from Saarc region, especially countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan, has been growing at 25 to 30 per cent and Africa even faster. The under-developed healthcare infrastructure in the African countries is driving patients from the region to India, though affordability continues to be an issue.

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