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Medical tourism: A sector imperilled

Copyright: cooldesign / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: cooldesign / 123RF Stock Photo

For a considerable length of time, medical tourism has been a fast-growing sector in India. In fact, in 2017, the sector in India was identified as one of the world’s fastest-growing. By 2020, a government official projected it to be worth US$9 billion by this year.

Earlier that year, investment company ICRA predicted the industry to double by 2021. In 2018, an increase in the number of medical e-visas was reported as the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said more than 201,000 such e-visas were granted in 2016 to people from 54 countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works. “Will medical tourism survive 2020?”, read the headline of an article published in The British Medical Journal. The commentary expounded upon “the uncertainty of COVID-19, lockdowns, border restrictions, and social distancing has stalled international travel. The UN World Tourism [Organization] estimates that the travel industry could decline by sixty percent to eighty percent by the end of 2020, calling it the “worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began.” It says Asia and the Pacific have been the regions hardest hit, with a loss of 33 million tourists.” 

In March, the Foundation of Healthcare & Wellness Promotion held a meeting on these concerns. quoted Dalip Chopra, president of the Foundation of Healthcare and Promotion as saying at the time that “there are many medical tourism players who have brought India to [the] top of the world medical tourism map, unfortunately, today they stare at [a] dark future.”

The report also quotes Amit Sharma, founder and CEO of eExpedise Healthcare as saying, “the fiscal damage to the MVT [medical value travel] industry due to the [novel coronavirus] is estimated at almost 2.5 billion [USD] if the corona conditions persist across the world for six months. This is equivalent to the revenue we would have generated over eight months if our business had progressed at the usual pace, without the unusual disruption caused by COVID-19. Most of this amount would have gone towards salaries and maintenance of our international offices, that generate patient flow to India.”

Yesterday having marked World Tourism Day, it is worthwhile assessing the effect of the pandemic on the medical tourism industry in India. February 2019 saw projections of the sector potentially growing by 200 percent by 2020. In the waning months of 2020, the outlook is markedly less optimistic. In the words of Chopra, “many medical tourism players…unfortunately, today…stare at [a] dark future.”

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