How medical tourism is changing India’s healthcare landscape?

The global medical tourism market is expected to be worth US$ 160.8 billion by the end of 2025 and the edge that India offers in terms of easily accessible and affordable healthcare makes its ripe for mammoth growth opportunities, writes Adarsh Jain


Almost every flight landing from the Middle East or Africa into India carries a good number of passengers who have come with the hope treating themselves. The lack of talent and poor healthcare infrastructure in these regions brings people to India for treatment. Over the years, India, thanks to its booming private healthcare setup, has emerged as the go-to destination for healthcare among people in the Middle East and Africa. Data shows that in 2015 a little more than 230,000 foreigners visited India for treatment, and in 2017 this number doubled to 500,000.

A recent report by Transparency Market Research predicts that the global medical tourism market will be worth US$ 160.8 bn by the end of 2025. This means that there will be growth opportunities for US$ 112 bn between 2016 and 2025, the report states further.

The Role of Private Healthcare

For most countries across the world, public healthcare has been the strong point, and government have consistently emphasized on maintaining a robust public healthcare system. However, in India, it has been exactly the opposite. While poor governance over the years is primarily a reason to blame, the liberalization of economy almost 44 years after independence and the humungous population governed by a democratic leadership, took time and toll on the country and its policy makers.

But when the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to implement federal laws that favored globalization of the Indian economy, it opened doors for several private players in healthcare to emerge. And in no time, India was becoming a hotspot for healthcare. Physicians who had left the country for higher studies in medicine decided to return to their homeland and set up world-class facilities that not only attracted patients from across the country, but the entire world. The list of such healthcare providers are endless. The icing on the cake here is that a good number of these hospitals and doctors today are global brands.

The rising influx of medical tourists has created hope and value for several markets within and outside healthcare. As the healthcare capabilities and India’s healthcare index improves with time, the TMR report states that there will be a lot of to lookout for in the medical tourism market in the coming years.

Organ Transplants is the Major Attraction

If you begin to delve into the numbers, it will not take much analysis to decipher that a large volume of the medical tourists visit India for organ transplantation. The absence of a regulated framework governing the organ transplantation sector acts in favor of the medical tourism market in this space. There is no law that defines the allocation of organs to foreigners, and as a result, patients willing to afford the price, manage to find a donor easily. A large proportion of this, is of course, foreigner population. While doctors and healthcare experts in the country have been mulling the need for a law that defines the allocation of organs to Indians and foreign nationals. On the other hand, the sheer size of the country makes it more viable to find donors easily, invariably making India a preferred destination for medical tourism.

Affordability Brings People to India

At the same time, affordability of these procedures. While eye transplants are comparatively less expensive, kidney, liver, heart, and lung transplants are expensive. Some of them may go up to INR 40 lakh or 4 million per procedure in a private hospital. While this might be relatively expensive for the Indian population, the prices appear as affordable when compared to the costs in the United States and Europe. This is a critical factor in attracting medical tourists to the country.

On one hand, organ transplants is a big driver of the medical tourists’ population, even other complicated procedures are equally a competent driver. From heart surgeries to fertility procedures, all of them are viable for foreigners in India, finds the TMR report.

Cosmetic Surgery and Dental Care

Appearance has become a sensitive issue and over the years people have not minded shelling a few hundred dollars on cosmetic procedures to improve their appearance. This is more frequent among people from the films, fashion, and advertisement industry. While it is a trend for Indians to visit abroad for such procedures, for foreigners it is the other way around. India is not only an affordable destination, but also is a preferred location for its weather conditions and developed private healthcare.

Support from the Indian Government and Other Nations

Right from the national health policy 2002 to other initiatives, the Indian government till date has been supportive of medical tourism. Over the years, the Indian government has entered into bilateral relationships with countries that look up to the nation for medical support. Easing the inflow of nationals from Myanmar, Sudan, and Cambodia, India has relaxed visa regulations. With more countries looking forward to a similar relationship, the prospects for growth in the medical tourism market looks promising.

Clarity in Laws for Surrogacy Can Add to Prospects in the Future

The Narendra Modi government is persistent about regulating surrogacy in India. Having failed in passing the law in the previous stint, the government re-introduced the Surrogacy Bill in July 2019. The bill proposes to set up a national board for surrogacy, thus allowing ethical practices to aid surrogacy. It also aims at eliminating commercial surrogacy. If implemented, this bill will pave way for many foreigners to visit India for treatment. Over the years, several reports have surfaced that states the practice of commercial surrogacy. This has barricaded the entry of foreigners who visit to have a child through a surrogate mother.

About Author: Adarsh Jain is an Assistant Team Lead at the Transparency Market Research. The quest to find answers to his deep curiosity in biological processes led Adarsh to pursue engineering in biotechnology. While science experiments intimidated him, he discovered his love for writing. Adarsh who writes on health, science, education, technology, and business, has got five years of experience in the domain.

*The views expressed by the author are his own.