India, as the world knows, is a wellness destination. The important question, however, is whether the existing wellness models in the country cater to the social, physical, spiritual, and emotional dimensions of wellness. On one hand, wellness systems that allow for alignment in mind, body, and spirit developed through centuries of wisdom and have a long way to go before they become mainstream in the Indian healthcare system. On the other hand, there is a renewed emphasis by the Government of India under the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), on positioning India with the spiritual philosophy that has been integral to the Indian way of life. This renewed focus is propelled largely to cater to the growing medical tourism in the country. In support, the Ministry of Tourism slogan “Incredible India” focuses on enticing tourists to India to explore ancient healing modalities like Ayurveda and yoga.
Sadly, wellness in India today is synonymous with the “body beautiful” concept embraced by the West and is losing its spiritual groundedness that came from religious scriptures like the Bhagwat Gita. The Gita defines yoga not as a mere physical exercise, but as a “heightened sensitivity and awareness of all life around us and within us, and an outpour of love in reciprocation with life’s wonder and beauty.”
On the contrary, in favor of medical tourism, researchers claim that the cost of medical treatment offered in India is lower by an average of 40%-60% compared to the United States or United Kingdom. This includes the stay, cost of treatment, and the fare to and from India. Indian government also issues medical visas valid for one year for up to two family members to accompany the patient, with flexibility to travel to India three times in a year. India’s National Health Policy clearly states, “The treatment of foreign patients is legally an export and eligible for all fiscal incentives extended to export earnings.” But this does not mean India is neglectful of offering quality care. According to Harris Solomon’s article “Affective Journeys: The Emotional Structuring of Medical Tourism in India,” published in the Journal of Anthropology & Medicine,”Foreign patients in India reflect diverse sentiments: a sense of betrayal by their home countries; a sense of being off-center amidst stark differences in India; and a sense of comfort and deep gratitude to their Indian caregivers.”
Interestingly, two-thirds of revenue from medical tourism is accounted for by Ayurvedic treatments aimed at rejuvenation. Unfortunately, majority of these Ayurvedic clinics function as spas and do little to empower clients with preventive health strategies. The focus also sadly neglects the needs of the domestic market where the citizens of the country are grappling with widening epidemics of obesity and chronic disease. The World Health Organization report has identified, fast food consumption, lack of physical activity and excessive use of tobacco as leading causes for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) and cancers in India. India is also losing the sense of community and family as the country continues to emulate the fast-paced life of Western societies. Fueled by the needs of the domestic market and growing awareness, private sector hospitals like Apollo Hospitals are beginning to offer modern and complementary medicine modalities like aromatherapy, pranic healing, yoga, and meditation. These models also aim at providing wellness services and programs to corporate organizations and schools. With this, we are beginning to see a shift and an inclusion of the domestic market as a target audience for wellness services. India is still at a emerging stage of identifying the importance of integrating biomedicine and CAIM (Complementary, Alternative and Integrated Medicine). Unlike China, where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been recognized as the main system of medicine, Ayurveda is yet to be integrated into national healthcare programs.
According to a recent joint report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Ernst and Young, the estimated market for wellness services in India that comprises of allopathy, alternative therapies, beauty, counseling, fitness and slimming, nutrition and rejuvenation is estimated atbillion ($2.2 billion). The report projects that the industry will continue to grow at an annual rate of 30-35 percent. This has ignited the entry of several providers such as organized Indian and international players, expansion by existing companies, strategic alliances, and interest among private equity investors and hospitality and realty industries.
With rapid mushrooming of wellness centers in the country, the government cannot afford to address the lack of regulation and accreditation for wellness centers. Department of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Services (NABH) are focused on defining accreditation standards for wellness centers that provide for a complete set of standards for evaluation for grant of accreditation. The standards focus on all aspects of service delivery like customer rights and education, infection control practices, trained and experienced staff, infrastructure, environment safety, processes and controls, and statutory and regulatory compliances. These accreditation guidelines will not only ensure quality wellness service offerings to visiting tourists but also will lead to better quality of care being offered to the domestic consumer who is often neglected.
India is on the right path to wellness, but progress is slow and the system highly bureaucratic to facilitate this change. If the Indian government decides to aggressively focus on preventive strategies and wellness with increased funding and subsidies to the private sector, dependence on allopathic medicine will be limited to critical health issues making it safer and more economical. Sustainable, replicable, and scalable community-based wellness models that include all the dimensions of wellness can democratize the wellness revolution and bridge the gap between public and private sector offerings.
After ten years in the corporate world, Preeti Rao decided to pursue her passion for spreading wellness by graduating with a master’s degree in Integrative Health from CIIS in the United States. She is a certified wellness coach, yoga teacher, group exercise specialist, personal trainer, and business consultant whose mission is to provide health and wellness services that encourage self-care and self-responsibility in mind, body, and spirit through a range of integrated health modalities in India.