India's medical tourism market is growing by 25 percent annually and is expected to become a $2 billion-a-year business opportunity by 2012, the tourism ministry said Monday.
"Medical tourism has gained momentum in India over the past few years, a trend underpinned by India's low-cost advantage and the emergence of new high-quality healthcare service providers," a ministry statement said.
The medical tourism market in India was estimated at $333 million in 2004, the year in which some 150,000 patients arrived in the country for treatment from the US and Britain, as also from the Gulf, Africa and SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) nations.
Since then, the number of such arrivals has increased by 20 percent while the size of the market has gone up by 25 percent, the ministry said.
To give medical tourism a boost, the Indian government has also introduced a new category of medical visa for foreigners who come to this country for treatment.
The visa is initially issued to a patient with a companion for a one-year period and can be extended up to three years after fulfilling certain conditions and recommendations from accredited medical authorities and concerned visa authorities.
As part of its Incredible India campaign, the tourism ministry has also developed a medical tourism brochure and CD detailing the speciality facilities available in the country that have been distributed worldwide.
Among its other initiatives, the tourism ministry participated at the World Travel Mart in London in November 2006 and at the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) at Berlin in March 2007 "to promote India as the new emerging healthcare destination and disseminate information on medical value travel".
"The response was good and generated a lot of queries for promoting medical tourism from potential tourists, medical tourism companies, health insurance companies, travel and tour operators in Britain," the statement said.
The ministry also participated in the New York Times Travel show in February 2007. There was also a session organised by the India Tourism Office, New York, the Indian High Commission and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to promote Indian healthcare services and invite investment in India.
According to the Indian medical fraternity, the cost of what a medical tourist pays is a fraction of what many in the West pay as hospital bills - with the added attraction of convalescing in picturesque places like Kerala and Goa.
According to industry officials, the average price of heart surgery in the West is $50,000. In India, it costs $10,000.
Similarly, a heart bypass in India costs about $4,000 compared to about $15,000 in the US. Similarly, a liver transplant sets a patient back by $350,000 in the US but in India costs just $50,000.