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India to be big gainer from medical and wellness tourism

If there's one lady whose state of health everyone in India is familiar with, it's Eman Ahmed, the Egyptian weighing half a ton. The Alexandria resident underwent weight loss treatment in Mumbai in early 2017.

Jun 13, 2017
By Sanjiv Kataria
If there's one lady whose state of health everyone in India is familiar with, it's Eman Ahmed, the Egyptian weighing half a ton. The Alexandria resident underwent weight loss treatment in Mumbai in early 2017. This 36-year-old suffers from a rare genetic disorder that interferes with signals to the brain telling her that she has had enough to eat. This is what made her the heaviest women on earth leaving her with multiple ailments. None of the doctors her family approached for treatment in other parts of the world risked treating her for fear of a not-so-happy outcome. 
All that changed when in September 2016 a bariatric surgeon from Mumbai’s Saifee Hospital, Dr Muffazzal Lakdawala, took up the challenge of treating Eman with the help of a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses and paramedics. 
Eman left India post intensive treatment and surgical procedures shedding 160 kilos over three months. But it wasn't medical measures alone that helped her. The accomplished team of physicians and surgeons followed a line of treatment that has helped Eman to sit up after a long time. 
Eman is one of the nearly quarter a million overseas patients Indian hospitals treat annually, bringing cheer to the ailing and their loved ones. It is no surprise at all that India should be so top-of-mind as a global destination for medical treatment. 
I often ask why patients come to Indian hospitals for treatment. And the following examples give us an insight. 
A team of doctors at Delhi’s Max Cancer Centre led by Dr Gagan Gautam performed a complex kidney cancer operation via robotic surgery last year to cure a 46-year old businessman from Zimbabwe to remove a tumour that was growing into and blocking the main vein of the body, the inferior vena cava (IVC). 
There are only a few reported instances of such a procedure being performed worldwide, till date. 
Or take the case of the 84-year old patient who needed treatment for endometrial cancer just a few weeks before her granddaughter was to be married in the US. Dr Anupama Rajanbabu, a specialist in gynaecologic oncology at the Kochi based Amrita Hospital, understood the patient’s conundrum, and juggled her schedule of surgeries, to successfully perform a robotic surgery that ensured the patient got home in three days. 
Soon after being discharged from Amrita Hospital the patient undertook the long travel to the US and attended all ceremonies at her granddaughter’s wedding. 
With Indian doctors making global headlines for performing complex procedures, the country’s medical tourism is getting a boost. 
Top private hospitals are equipped with modern healthcare equipment and facilities for diagnostics, screening, operation theatres, intensive care units, post operative recuperation and rehabilitation and follow benchmarked processes and protocols. Cutting-edge technologies such as robot assisted procedures are now available at nearly 50 Indian hospitals. 
In 2016, India attracted nearly nine million foreign tourists of which an estimated 2,01,333 were here for medical treatment, according to data put out by the Union Ministry of Tourism. Since April 2017, three sub categories of e-visa have come into force – e-tourist visa, e-business visa and e-medical visa that is further expected to give a boost to medical tourism in the country.
Bolstered by a strong web presence, that helps locate the relevant doctors and separate facilitation desks to handle overseas patients, Indian hospitals are expected to double the footfall of foreign patients. 
This June, on International Yoga Day, Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma has hinted that he will unveil a new wellness and medical tourism policy. With an easier policy, more like Emam Ahmed can hope to gain succour from the land of Susrutha, the earliest recorded surgeon in ancient times.
(The author is a Strategic Communications & PR Counsel)

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