India has secured a place amongst the top 10 destinations in the world in matters of affordable healthcare. The country is one of the fastest-growing economies globally and stands first in line to be one of the unequal countries worldwide. While on one hand, India is one of the most preferred places for affordable and accessible health facilities; on the other hand, several from the lowest social strata struggle to get something as essential as oxygen (as was seen during the disastrous second wave). In India, a decent healthcare environment is only accessible to those who can pay for it.
Credits to Prime Minister's Make In India and Incredible India initiatives, India has primarily emerged as one of the most preferred tourism destinations across the world. Foreigners look forward to rejuvenating in a country that has long been known for its rich culture, historical significance and ever-lasting diversity across the lengths and breadth of the diverse land. Interestingly, that is not the only attraction in India anymore. The land has been a premier attraction for high-end healthcare and has been experiencing international tourists for best-in-class clinical treatments.
Medical tourism in India is a million-dollar booming business and most of the patients seeking treatment for their aliments are from Asian and African countries. Most commonly, international travellers prefer Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Jaipur, seeking better and more reasonable healthcare. In 2019, India welcomed more than 6 lakh medical tourists. It was because of COVID-19 imposed lockdown and abrupt suspension of flight services that the number saw a dip in 2020. Nevertheless, the influx of medical tourists has been increasing over the past decade.
Why Is Medical Tourism Increasing In India?
India provides better infrastructural and technological facilities at lower costs, be it related to eyes, heart, kidney or health problems as serious as organ transplants. It offers primary clinical treatments at almost 20 per cent lower cost. India is also home to the latest and most advanced options for patients with super-speciality hospitals. Improving artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and extensive use of robotics also erase the probability of human error.
Apart from the technological advancements in medicine, India also offers to the world a wide range of medical practitioners in almost all fields. According to a report by Invest India, there are more than 1.2 million allopathic doctors, 0.17 million dental surgeons, 2 million nurses and 0.8 million ayurvedic doctors in the country. India's rich history with medicine gives an array of options to the people to choose from. Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Vedanta and meditation are the other most rewarding forms of medical alternatives. Moreover, the strong government branding of AYUSH has further led to the rise in the popularity of age-old treatment methods.
In 2014, the government of India widened the ambit of tourism to medical tourism by tending to the travellers by opening the provisions of e-medical and medical attendant visas. Several helpdesks have been set up at major airports across the country to facilitate end-to-end support and logistical help to the incoming people. Under the Ministry of Tourism, the National Medical and Medical Tourism Board acts as an umbrella organisation that promotes medical tourism and several other government elements.
The Healthcare Budget Increased Drastically
While all may seem hunky-dory in the healthcare sector in the country, all is still not good. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic crippled India's healthcare system. It was only in February 2021 that India's healthcare budget saw a significant increase. Till 2019, India's healthcare budget was a mere ₹94,000 crore, which was increased by 137 per cent in 2021 to ₹ 2 lakh crore. India is home to 17.5 per cent of the earth's population but bears 20 per cent of the global disease burden. The healthcare sector in India represents a series of contrasting landscapes.
Primarily, the urban Indians lie on one side, whereas the other side is home to some 'other India' that is the easiest to ignore. On one end lie the glitzy glassy hospitals that provide a better paid for and well-deserved medicare, whereas, on the other end, lies a ramshackle of people struggling for primary healthcare. This divide is likely to increase further because of the rapid increase in modernisation and urbanisation. Several problems that we, as a country, are quickly pushing under the carpet are alarming and need to be addressed immediately.
Where Does India Need To Improve?
A quantum increase in the health budget is one of the most basic needs of the modern world. India can gradually pick the pace of developed nations to allocate adequate funds. The government should not wait for another wake-up call in the face of a pandemic to trigger the triple-digit allocation for the budget. The increase in budget allocation at both Central and state levels would ensure better facilities are rendered to the rich and all those belonging to society.
In 2019, India witnessed several incidents of violence against doctors, which led to healthcare professionals protesting in many parts of the country. The increase in violence from the public and under-satisfactory performance of doctors can result from an increasing burden on healthcare professionals. Moreover, it is high time that primary healthcare centres gain back their primary importance in society. Suppose people are comfortable enough with treatments from the PHCs near them. In that case, they will avoid covering long distances to visit a doctor in a super-speciality hospital, thus saving them money and time.
Human resource is one of the main pillars of a stable society. Likewise, ably skilled doctors can help solve minor health issues at the root in healthcare, thus preventing an impending caseload on doctors with specialised skills. A reliable data collection could be the first step to bringing the ground reality into public view. Instead of fearing a backlash due to ill-maintained facilities, the country would be faster on the road to progress if it addresses the crippling issues.