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India Seeks to Promote Medical Tourism - 2003-10-12


India is intensifying efforts to promote itself as a health-care destination for overseas patients.

Patients from the Middle East, Africa, and neighboring countries such as Bangladesh are traveling to upscale, private Indian hospitals in search of procedures ranging from open-heart surgery to knee replacement operations.

While the trend is several years old, private Indian hospitals want to expand the market, luring many more overseas patients. About three-quarters of India's health-care services are privately managed, and their five-star facilities are a stark contrast to the ill-equipped and shabby government hospitals and clinics. Anupam Sibal, a spokesman for Apollo hospitals, a leading private hospital group, said Apollo hospitals treat more than 10,000 foreign patients every year, and that number could grow dramatically.

Mr. Sibal said market potential is based on several factors: the well-established medical expertise of Indian doctors, state-of-the-art private hospital equipment, and lower costs compared to other countries. "Selected hospitals in India can actually match up in terms of results with the best in the West ... the cost is one-tenth of what it is in ... United States. In United States the cost of a bypass surgery is $40,000. In India, it is between $3,000 and $4,000. And very importantly: The world is becoming smaller; travel is a lot easier. If you can provide quality care at one-tenth the price with the same results, then people are willing to travel," he said.

Travel agents and tour operators have caught on. Across the Middle East and Africa - in countries such as Yemen and Sudan, for example - tour agents tout the advantages of upscale medical care along with the allure of Indian palaces and the Taj Mahal. Last month, a team of Indian industrialists and doctors traveled to Britain to showcase Indian health care. Mr. Sibal said Indian hospitals are offering to help Western hospitals with some medical procedures, including analyzing x-rays and other scans.

Recognizing the health-care industry's growth potential, the Indian government is offering big tax benefits and incentives to attract investment to the sector. Official figures show that the $17 billion industry is growing at 10 percent each year. Estimates show it will expand to $60 billion in a decade.

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