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India's medical tourism hit by Indo-Pak tension
January 18, 2013

India’s medical tourism industry, pegged at around $2 billion and growing at 20% a year , is set to take a significant hit if tension with Pakistan persists. Hospitals and industry experts fear that visa hurdles may restrict  the movement of patients from Pakistan, who constitute around 15-20% of the total international travelers coming to India for medical treatment, causing a chunky revenue loss for the country.

Many hospital chains such as Apollo, Medanta-the Medicity, Max and Ganga Ram attract traffic from Pakistan. According to top representatives in these hospitals, patients primarily come for organ transplants (such as liver and kidney), oncology related treatment, cardiac and orthopedic surgeries. While the number has already started reducing in some hospitals starting this week, the impact on India's medical tourism may show more after around a month if the situation continues, they said.

For instance, at Ganga Ram Hospital, which receives around 4-5 patients daily from Pakistan, the number has reduced to 1-2 patients since Sunday.  “If such tension continues, it will definitely impact the patient inflow and those in need of treatment. Things may become worse if they stop issuing new visas,” a hospital executive said.

Apollo Hospital General Manager- Marketing and Strategic Businesses Raj Raina said, “There could be trouble. The government may act cautious ahead of the Republic Day.” Pointing out that the hospital typically has patients lined up 3-4 weeks in advance, he said, the exact impact could be assessed in about 10 days when patients who have just got appointment initiate their visa processes. Apollo is among the hospitals that attract the highest number of patients from Pakistan at around 50-60 patients per month. Around 90% of them come for for liver transplant. According to Raina, Apollo conducted 130 liver transplants on Pakistani patients in 2012.

Medanta, which is geared to cater to international patients, receives 8-10 patients per month from Pakistan for various treatments. International patients constitute18-20% of its total occupancy, Vice President-International Marketing, Medanta, Navneet Malhotra, said. The hospital currently has 900 beds operational.

When contacted, a government official said that medical tourism was a “special case”. “When it comes to giving visas to special cases, we do not discriminate between countries,” a senior government official claimed. However, doctors and hospital representatives argued that there’s a gap between “what is” and “what should be”. Also, patients from Pakistan may choose not to visit India at this point, sensing the tension between the two countries.   

India has been promoting medical tourism for some time now. With an average occupancy of 10-20% of total patients, international inflow is a major revenue churner for many corporate hospitals. For instance, Apollo earns 20-25% of its total Rs 600 crore revenue from international patients, while patients from Pakistan contribute 3% of the total, Raina said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Executive Director, Leader - Healthcare Practice Rana Mehta says, “Medical tourism is an important segment because it allows most hospitals to charge a premium of around 20-25% over what it does to local patients. So, the realization per patient is more.”

However, some also believe that the tension between the two countries would harm Pakistan more than India. “It is more of Pakistan’s loss than India’s. It is not that they are giving us a lot of revenue, they come here primarily because there this kind of quality healthcare is unavailable and India is a cost effective option along with physical proximity for patients,” says Deloitte Touche Senior Director-Strategy and Operations Consulting Charu Sehgal.

Apart from Pakistan, India attract a huge traffic from Africa, CIS countries, Gulf nations and SAARC region. Experts say Kolkata and Chennai also attract patients from Bangladesh and Myanmar, respectively.

*International patients constitute an average 10-20 per cent of total patients in major corporate hospitals

*Patients from Pakistan constitutes around 15-20 per cent of the total international patient inflow to India

*Medical tourism industry is pegged at $1 billion per annum, growing at around 18 per cent

*It is expected to touch $2 billion by 2015

*India attracts patients mostly from Africa, CIS countries, Gulf and SAARC nations, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar

*Patients visit India mostly for organ transplant, treatment of orthopedic, cardiac and oncology problems (Courtesy: Economic Times)
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