India’s medical travel sector versus the government

 

The Indian medical tourism industry may be facing huge financial losses due to the pandemic, but the government plans to wait for some time before issuing medical visas to patients from abroad seeking treatment in India.

The India Tourism Development Corporation also wants to focus on India first, to be sure about the availability of proper medical facilities and infrastructure for Indian citizens.

The ban on regular, scheduled international air travel to and from India has been extended to October 31. Domestic air travel has resumed.

International flights from India are expected to be fully operational by the first quarter of 2021, according to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Full resumption of international flights will depend on the virus situation in the country and globally, but India expects to be closed for the rest of 2020.

Pending resumption of scheduled international air travel, India has air corridor bubbles with 16 countries, including the UAE , with a few more under negotiation. Air corridor bubbles are temporary flying arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services, but these only apply to repatriation flights and some other services on a case-by-case basis.

The Medical Travel Representative Association (METRA) is a new association for medical travel agents in India, based in Gurugram. METRA has stated that it wants the government to help the industry by providing relief funds or tax concessions. It also suggests standard operating procedures for foreign patients for restarting medical tourism.

Arun Sangwan, METRA co-founder, says “We urge the authorities to start providing patients with medical visas to India at the earliest and also air bubble flights should be allowed, to make it convenient for the patients to travel. When patients aren’t willing to travel to different countries for treatment with their respective health conditions, issuance of visa and assurance of proper precautions may dispel some fears. The industry has died in the pandemic and to revive the industry, government should also start working on ensuring safe travel, treatment and accommodation to patients. If we ensure the safety of patients, they will gain confidence again in traveling and this will help in reviving the industry."

Apollo Hospitals Enterprise has also recently stated that medical tourism in India needs support from the government to get back on its feet after being severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hospital group says that while medical tourism is still nascent in India, it holds great potential. In 2019, Apollo saw patients from 50 countries, accounting for 13% of revenue. The main procedures for which patients go to Apollo included treatment for cancer, organ transplant, cardiac procedures, orthopaedics, eye surgery, dental care and neurosurgery. The majority of international patients going to Apollo hospitals were from Bangladesh, South East Asia and Africa, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pacific Islands, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. Much smaller numbers came from the UK, Europe, USA and Canada.

The revenue from medical tourism for Apollo was growing steadily, but has been impacted by restrictions on international air travel. While the air-routes are opening up gradually, it is likely to take some time for medical travel to return.

Local experts argue that the resumption of medical tourism will require careful planning encompassing the patients’ whole journey, from transfer from the airport, to arrival at guest houses, transfer to hospital for treatment, safe departure post treatment, and other elements.

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