The medical tourism industry in India could grow by 200% by 2020, reaching $ 9 billion, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism. While trying to develop the industry, the country is trying to facilitate the coming of people for medical reasons. It boasts advanced facilities, qualified doctors and low cost treatments, but also traditional practices such as yoga and Ayurveda.

"India can provide medical and health care that meets international standards at a lower cost," said Tourism Minister KJ Alphons, written answer to a question from the Lower House of Parliament. "India excels in advanced medical facilities, reputed health professionals, quality nursing facilities and traditional health care therapies."

In 2015, India ranked third among the most popular destinations for medical tourism, while the industry was worth $ 3 billion. The number of foreign tourists arriving in the country with medical visas has reached almost 234,000 this year.

In 2017, the number of arrivals has more than doubled to 495,056, according to government figures.

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Visa rules have also been modified to encourage applications.

"The e-tourism visa regime has been expanded to include medical check-ups, medical assistance visas have been introduced to facilitate the travel process of medical tourists, and the maximum length of stay in India with the medical visa is longer duration of six months, "said Alphons.

Still, it's important to be cautious about predictions, said Johanna Hanefeld, associate professor of health policy and systems at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"One of the challenges is that the figures quoted are based on the private sector, individuals pay for private providers, and all types of numbers tend to be relatively speculative." The first wave of predictions was 39 analysis and commercial research and was based on the fact that cost and quality remain the same.As it is essentially a world where borders are disappearing, it is an area of ​​growth "said Hanefeld.

"Over the past five years, these predictions have been negated because health is a difficult issue and people make decisions based on a number of reasons such as culture, proximity or These are not rational decisions based solely on economic considerations. "

India is part of a global trend

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development describes medical tourists as people who "cross international borders in order to receive medical treatment".

This covers a range of medical services, but most often includes dental care, cosmetic surgery, non-emergency surgery and fertility treatments. People visit India for a variety of health care needs, including cancer treatments, transplants and cardiac surgery.

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According to Patients Beyond Borders, a consumer advocacy group for medical travel, approximately 14 million to 16 million patients have traveled out of their home country to seek care in 2017. It is estimated that the global market Medical tourism is between $ 45.5 billion and $ 72 billion.

The other main destinations are Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

The global industry and consumers also face challenges, particularly with regard to the quality and continuity of care.

"There is no quality assurance between countries," Hanefeld said. "So, if something goes wrong, there is no way to get compensation, whether it's professional misconduct or serious complications following a procedure." so that it deters people.It is a private sector practice.There is no international body or quality assurance.

Nevertheless, for many, cost savings can be a major drawback. Patients Without Borders uses health care costs in the United States as a reference for savings ranging from 40% to 90%, depending on the country. In Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico and Turkey, patients can save 40% to 65% on procedures and treatments. Countries like Singapore and South Korea, where patients can save 25% to 45% on procedures, are at the highest level.

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In India, savings can range from 65% to 90% when patients receive quality care.

"Indian doctors are renowned for their quality medical education, many of whom are Indian returnees who have studied abroad.You then have large hospital groups like Apollo, which have become major brands. They have also established strategic partnerships with brands in high-income countries such as the Mayo Clinic, "said Hanefeld.

For private healthcare providers in India, medical tourism is a lucrative business.

In 2018, Max Healthcare, a chain of private hospitals, treated up to 50,000 foreign patients, the majority coming from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Patients often come for specialized care that requires specific equipment or skills, said Sonika Raina, Max Healthcare representative.

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"This includes high-end heart surgeries, including pediatric cardiac surgery, cancer treatments, neurosurgery, spine surgery, transplants, bariatric surgery, trauma-related orthopedic surgery and IVF." Raina said.

"Nearly 10% of the total business turnover comes from foreign patients."

Many patients in India come from neighboring countries and other developing countries. "There is also a huge market for the diaspora, like the British born to Indian parents," Hanefeld said.

"Originally, it was predicted that people from rich countries would go to middle-income countries to do good business, and what seems to be more the case is that more people from low- and middle-income countries are to cure, "said Hanefeld. I said.

"It's more of a downtime.What you see often, it's the elite of middle-income countries in the lower income bracket, simply because the procedures do not may not be available in the country of origin. "

Traveling for traditional health practices

Traditional Indian health practices such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy are also promoted to increase the number of medical tourists.

Ayurveda is an ancient system of Hindu medicine based on the concept of balance in the body. He uses herbal treatment and yogic breathing.

Siddha and Unani have the same holistic approach to finding a harmony between mind and body, the origins of Siddha lying in the state of Tamil Nadu in the south of the country, while Unani can trace its roots back to ancient Greece.

All these activities are under the Ministry of AYUSH, a government agency created in 2014 to improve access to and awareness of traditional methods.

The AYUSH Indian industry accounted for about $ 2.4 billion in 2014-2015, according to a report published in 2018 by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

This traditional knowledge of health care, as well as India's reputation in modern Western approaches, fuel the rise of medical tourism in the country.

Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah, CNN, contributed to this report.