India is one of the many countries on many travellers’ bucket list. Every year, tourists flock from different parts of the world to experience the many things India has to offer. Among the lot are culture, food, wildlife, breath-taking scenic locations, history and medicine.
According to the International Healthcare and Research Center Statistics, India ranks 5th globally and 2nd in Asia on the medical tourism index. Medical tourism in India has an immense potential to boost the economy. Every year, there are more than 170 thousand people landing in India for medical purposes. In 2019, India saw a footfall of around 7 lakh medical tourists from countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Oman, Yemen, Tanzania, Kenya, the USA, the UK and more. Due to the pandemic, the medical tourism market has been hit. To cope with that, the Government of India has announced free tourist visas to the first 5 lakh tourists. From the medical tourism perspective, this move can generate more revenue and revive the market that was on hiatus for more than a year.
There are a plethora of reasons as to why India attracts so many people for medical reasons. Firstly, avoiding long waiting periods is the biggest reason foreigners arrive in India. This is followed by low treatment costs, highly experienced doctors, nurses and state-of-the-art equipment that are not available even in the most developed countries. Indian nurses are known to be the most experienced caretakers in the world. Since English is spoken by a large part of the country, it is easier for tourists to overcome the language barrier. Apart from these reasons, tourists also seek complementary medical treatments such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Siddha. Celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Madonna, Demi Moore have all undergone Ayurvedic treatment at various centres in India.
Ayurveda dates back 5000 years and is a school of medicine that treats physical and mental ailments. Preventive healthcare is something that is not offered by western medicine. Panchakarma is a very complex medical procedure in Ayurveda based on one’s constitution. This term is nowadays very loosely stated as detoxification. In this process, the body is cleansed and it slows down ageing. It also aids in weight management which is useful since obesity is a major issue in most countries. “Obesity is sometimes managed in Allopathy by liposuction but this comes with side-effects. Ayurveda has lifestyle strategies that have fewer or zero side-effects. Allopathy does not provide solutions to issues as common as diabetes, hypertension and more. Ayurveda on the other hand is known to be able to cure or at least control the ailment”, said Mr Vijay Kumar Karai, Founder & CEO, Ayuruniverse.
Autism, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, PCOS and more are cured by Ayurveda. Lifestyle-based health issues find solutions in Ayurvedic texts. The cause of the disease is looked into rather than the symptoms alone. The Doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) and Sapta Dhatus and mind are maintained in a state of balance. The west – both the general public and the medical community – have understood and diverted their attention to this. This revelation comes to most only after dabbling with western medicine. When their needs are not fully met, they turn to alternative systems of medicine such as Ayurveda. Most Ayurvedic treatments are complementary. For example, in the case of cancer, when a patient undergoes chemotherapy, immune responses are weakened, bodily functions are affected with a not-so-great quality of life.This can be assuaged by Ayurveda.
The inculcation of Ayurveda into medical tourism has been a gradual process. People came to India initially for surgical treatments because one, the cost of surgery is highly reduced. For instance, a coronary by-pass surgery is estimated at $75,000 in the US whereas the same surgery costs around $7000 in India. Most Americans prefer a natural approach to health and spend around $25 billion dollars towards this. Two, easy accessibility and quick scheduling of the surgery. This improves the longevity and quality of life.
Following their surgeries, patients look to recuperate before travelling to their home nations. India has many spas and retreats in the most scenic locations that helps them convalesce faster. Apart from dealing with any side effects of Allopathic treatments, patients are introduced to an Ayurvedic lifestyle. They then convey the benefits of Ayurveda to their family, friends and those in their social circles. This is how awareness of Ayurveda is spread.
Patients now travel to India to undergo Ayurvedic procedures: both invasive and external. Panchakarma treatments include Vamana (medical emesis), Virechana (therapeutic purgation), Basti (medicated enema), Nasya (administering medicines through the nose) and Rakthamokshana (blood purification). Apart from these procedures that detoxify the body, cosmetic surgeries are also included. Ayurveda-based cosmetic products have attracted many for their anti-ageing properties. Ayurveda also prescribes a certain diet and a lifestyle to be followed that has long-term benefits. Along with Ayurveda, practice of Yoga has also helped in faster recuperation and a newfound surge of energy in life. Most people stay at these centres for 2 weeks to a month or more depending on the purpose of their visit.
Across the world and in India, there are many Ayurvedic spas and retreats that offer services to hundreds of people every year in different areas. There are many who claim to be Ayurvedic but aren’t. This can cause a negative impact in the minds of foreigners on the authenticity of Ayurveda.
However, the Government of India (GoI) has allowed Ayurvedic retreats in Ayurveda hospitals that carry the NABH certification. This ensures some level of authenticity. There are many reviews provided on various platforms such as ‘Trip Advisor’. Social media has a strong impact on people and thus these reviews are taken into consideration by tourists. There are many retreats that are ethical which means that if a specific service cannot be provided to certain patients, they are turned down rather than making false promises. Kerala Tourism has also introduced “Green Leaf” and “Olive Leaf” grading to Ayurvedic institutions to ensure the quality of service. Green Leaf is provided to those that offer five-star facilities and Olive Leaf to those who offer three-star facilities. This grading system provides credibility and assures those who visit the centres of the best service.
The Ministry of AYUSH is also working towards promoting Ayurveda tourism, not only on a global level but also domestically. It is not a commonly known fact but many insurance policies are said to cover the cost of Ayurvedic treatments too. In 2016, according to GoI’s Make in India report, the Ministry of AYUSH had an annual turnover of around $120 billion with Kerala showing the highest rise in medical tourism for Ayurveda.
Ayurveda aims at Swasthya Rakshana i.e. health protection. This aspect of Ayurveda is now well recognized by the west thus attracting people from across continents to India. Many across the world sought out ayurvedic remedies during the pandemic and this interest in Ayurveda and other traditional Indian practices will benefit the country and its medical tourism market in a post-pandemic world.
About the Author
Ms Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.