Kochi: The average annual number of cross-border patients, including those from the Gulf region, who have availed treatment in hospitals in Kerala has crossed 50,000. The sector has been registering a steady yearly growth of 20 per cent, generating a revenue of about Rs 200 crore.
Previously called ‘medical tourism,’ the burgeoning industry has popularly come to be known as medical value travel (MVT) now.
The exponential growth in medical value tourism is attributed to sweeping policy changes as well as the efforts put in by central and state governments to make India a destination of choice for medical tourists.
Systemic reforms such as the fast-track mechanism for issuing medical visas to patients from other countries introduced by the Ministry of External Affairs have also played to the country’s advantage. There are as many as twenty-six hospitals in Kerala that have met standards established by external accrediting bodies. They include the District General Hospital, Ernakulam, Sree Avittam Tirunal (SAT) Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, apart from some top-class institutions in the private sector.
Kerala is considered as the most ideal MVT destination in India due to various positive factors such as the presence of three international airports, with the fourth one coming up soon, foreign-trained doctors, a nursing workforce that is highly sought-after in the global labour market, inexpensive treatment as compared to hospitals in the country’s major cities, easy access to tourist centres and resorts that provide the perfect environment for patients to recuperate in comfort, and most importantly, several NABH-accredited hospitals with world-class facilities to choose from.
Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Maldives, and African nations including Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania are the major contributors in terms of medical tourist arrivals in Kerala. The state has also become an attractive option for patients from Bangladesh, whose preferred destinations used to be Chennai and Vellore.
The specialities in demand among patients from abroad include cardiology, orthopaedics, nephrology, urology, gynecology etc. Europeans mostly travel to India for cosmetic dentistry and specialist treatment as the cost of dental treatment is very high in their countries when compared to the fee charged by the local hospitals.
Since there are special pricing arrangements for foreigners, the new trend has resulted in significant rise in the revenues of hospitals. This not only brings in incremental foreign exchange for the country but also helps these institutions offer affordable and quality treatment to local patients as well make investments to improve existing facilities.
The main objective of the recently formed Kerala Medical Value Travel Society, which is modelled on the Kerala Travel Mart Society, is to attract foreigners and take advantage of the emerging trend. The authorities have charted out plans to conduct a medical travel mart in association with the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC).
At present, Chennai is the most sought after MCT destination in India followed by Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
According to MVT Taskforce National co-chairman Dr Harish Pillai, Kerala has the potential to overtake these cities and grow even further into that role.
Make travel marts a priority
The Advantage Healthcare India is an annual international summit on Medical Value Travel which is being jointly organised by the union ministries of commerce and industry, external affairs, and tourism with the aim of promoting services exports from India. The event is attended by representatives of prominent hospitals in the country as well as foreign delegates and tour operators.
Central government bears the entire cost of Rs 8 crore for the conduct of the event. Delhi was the regular host of the summit until the last edition was shifted to Bengaluru.
Authorities in Kerala should now make serious effort to bring the event to the state. As around 500 delegates representing the Gulf, South Asia, South East Asia and Africa take part in the summit, playing host to the programme would definitely improve patient inflow from these countries.
Currently, India’s major competitors in the global MVT market are Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, and Malaysia. In order to improve the country’s positioning as a destination of choice, the central government has formed a task-force in coordination with the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.