Medical Value Tourism: Time to Heal in India

Kamala Vardhana Rao, IAS, Chairman & Managing Director, ITDC, opines that the demand for healthcare and wellness services is bound to surge in the post-COVID world, with more people than ever looking out for avenues of quality medical care and holistic wellness. In such a scenario, India stands well-poised as a front runner in the medical tourism space, and the sector is looking north.


Medical Tourism was estimated to have a market size of US$ 44.8 billion in 2019, with some 1.40 crore people travelling to different countries for better medical treatment, essentially forming the medical tourism sector. The sector is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.1% from 2020 to 2027.

India ranks 10th out of the top 46 countries in the world according to Medical Tourism Index 2020-21 (as reported by Medical Tourism Association). While MVT for India was projected to be US$ 9 billion by 2020, despite the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism and hospitality industry, the medical tourism sector is estimated to have been worth US$ 5–6 billion. MVT in India is expected to grow to US$ 13 billion by 2022.

In 2015, foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) on grounds of medical visas were recorded as 2,33,918, which more than doubled to 2017. Between 2017 and 2019, India experienced over 40% growth in FTAs, with the number of tourists increasing from 495,056 in 2017 to 697,000 in 2019. India’s source market for medical tourists is typically Afghanistan, Pakistan, Oman, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nigeria, Kenya and Iraq. However, there is a huge potential for India to aggressively tap medical tourists from other parts of the world including Europe and the Americas.

What makes India a leading medical tourism destination?

  1. International level healthcare services: India possesses state-of-the-art healthcare facilities offering treatment across specialities ranging from cosmetic enhancements to complicated cardiac, orthopaedic, and spinal surgeries. Hospitals are equipped with the latest technologies needed to conduct complex medical procedures and have exceptional facilities for post-operative care. There are 36 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospitals and 800 NABH accredited hospitals in India. According to estimates, there are 12.5 million registered medical practitioners in India and 4 lakh pharma students graduate every year. India also fulfils 60% of the global demand for vaccines and produces 60,000 generic medicines in 60 therapeutic categories. The ecosystem is robust but needs proper channelization and leverage.
  2. Low cost of treatment: Comparing the cost of treatment in India with that in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, and South Korea, heart bypass would cost US$ 7900 against US$ 15000, US$ 12100, US$ 17200, US$ 13900, and US$ 26,000, respectively. Similarly, hip replacement would cost approximately US$ 9,700 in India compared to US$ 16,350 in Singapore and US$ 19,500 in South Korea. This is the major factor that makes it possible for International tourists to choose India as their preferred medical destination.
  1. Dedicated ministry for alternate medicine: India is perhaps the only country with an entire ministry dedicated to alternative medicine, rejuvenation therapies and yoga. Based on age-old traditional forms of medicine, these therapies are gaining popularity worldwide towards steering the global population away from the disease and treatment cycle to a lifestyle of preventive and holistic health. India offers wellness tourism based on the timeless foundations of Ayurveda, Yoga, and meditation, while concerted efforts are being made to revive and promote alternative medicines, along with stress-relieving and rejuvenation therapies.

Efforts for Boosting MVT

Indian Government in the past 7 years have taken numerous measures and introduced policies to strengthen MVT.

  • The government added medical visits to the e-tourist visa regime which was launched in 2014 to make availing visa more seamless. Under the provision, e-tourist visas included medical attendants as well, while the medical visa process was eased to accommodate multiple entries and long-term stays.
  • In 2015, the National Medical & Wellness Tourism Board (NMWTB) was constituted to function as an overarching organisation and provide an institutional framework to further the promotion of medical and wellness tourism.
  • ‘Heal in India’ campaign was subsequently conceptualised to take India’s core value proposition of holistic health to the world and popularising India as a wellness destination.
  • In 2018, MVT was identified as one of the “Champion Services Sectors” to be receiving a part of the 5,000 crores dedicated fund created by the Central Government to strengthen these sectors.
  • The Government made an additional allocation of INR 2,970 crores for the Ministry of AYUSH in the Union Budget 2021-22.
  • Guidelines have been released for accreditation of Ayurveda and Panchakarma Centres for implementation.

MVT in the post-COVID World

There’s already a major demand for wellness and alternate cures from the global population who are stuck with a fast-paced modern lifestyle. The high cost of services and long waiting periods have made people look eastwards. The countries lacking adequate medical facilities are also looking up to India for cost-effective medical care and wellness services.

Amidst such escalating demand for MVT and growing popularity, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight back on healthy living, preventive medicines, nutrition, and immunity building. The demand for healthcare and wellness services is bound to surge in the post-COVID world, with more people than ever looking out for avenues of quality medical care and holistic wellness. In such a scenario, India stands well-poised as a front runner in the medical tourism space, and the sector is looking north.


Kamala Vardhana Rao, IAS, is the Chairman & Managing Director India Tourism Development Corporation. Views are personal.


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