More than 800,000 foreigners visited India in the past three years for medical treatment, making it one of the top destinations for medical tourism.
About 825,000 medical visas were issued to foreigners, mostly in African nations, between 2019 and 2021, the Home Ministry said on Tuesday.
“A total of 410,677, 142,928 and 272,190 foreigners arrived on medical visas in 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively,” said Nityanand Rai, Minister of State for Home.
The numbers are significant, despite international travel restrictions because of the coronavirus.
The global medical tourism market is estimated to be worth about $72 billion. Countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are leading destinations for medical tourism.
India’s medical tourism industry was expected to be worth $9bn in 2020, according to industry body the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Last year, the country ranked 10th in the world in the Medical Tourism Index compiled by the Medical Tourism Association.
The country has almost 600 globally and nationally accredited hospitals that provide world-class treatment.
Foreign visitors seek treatment in medical centres such as Delhi and Mumbai, as well as smaller cities where costs are lower.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Oman and West Africa are among places from which people journey for treatment ranging from dental care to critical surgery including tumour removal, heart surgery and organ transplants.
Tourists can combine healthcare services with visits to tourist attractions throughout the country.
“I came to India because of its affordable cost and quality treatment and the doctors here are well experienced compared with other countries,” said Abdinur, 65, who visited from Somalia for a heart procedure in southern Hyderabad.
The pandemic slowed the flow of visitors, but the industry is expecting to bounce back.
Mahendrakar Sreekant, head of international operations at Medicover Hospitals in Hyderabad, said there had been a 30 per cent rise in patient footfall since last year.
“We receive nearly 500 patients from countries like Yemen and Africa every year. In fact, the footfall of patients has increased since the pandemic restrictions were lifted, as they were waiting for treatment,” Mr Sreekant told The National.
The Indian government has been pushing to make the country a go-to destination for quality and affordable care.
The country is the world's largest supplier of generic drugs.