The decision of the Union Government to stop Maldivians from using their visa-free travel facilities to India for other activities could hit medical tourism in the southern states.

Maldivians come to hospitals in Kerala, Chennai and Karnataka. Many use the visa-on-arrival facility, so far available to them, to take a tourist visa and get treated. Maldivians will now need medical visas for treatment in Indian hospitals.

“As hospitals in Maldives are equipped only with infrastructure for basic health problems, the psychology among people there is to visit India for all complex surgeries including correction of deformities or knee replacements,” said Sharan S Patil, chairperson and Chief Orthopaedician of Sparsh Hospital in Bangalore.

Mauroof Hussain, an ENT surgeon from Maldives, who has brought his father to Chennai for treatment said: “Tertiary care in Maldives is not good but it is better in India and Sri Lanka.”

Hospital executives in Chennai ay that while emergency medical treatments may get priority because of the restrictions, the cap of 50 visas a day is expected to create a backlog of patients, especially those who must come for follow-up.

Corporate hospitals have dedicated desks that overseas patients can approach for assistance. According to Srinidhi Chidambaram, Vice-President, International Patients Division of Apollo Hospitals, Maldives accounts for “the third largest segment of international patient flow at Chennai and the volume is substantial.” The peak season is December to January, which is the school holiday season in Maldives.

Hospitals in Kerala may suffer most as six major private facilities in Thiruvananthapuram are the hospitals of choice of Maldivians. For instance, Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) provided treatment to 36,000 persons from the island nation in 2011 and 40,000 last year. The medical assistance sought ranged from dental problems to cardiac surgery. Many come there for a short visit and then undergo treatment by extending the visa.

“The visa restrictions will have far reaching consequences for the State as several accredited private hospitals have been approved by the insurance companies. The economic implications will also be felt soon”, says Executive Director of KIMS, E. M. Najeeb.

Devi Prasad Shetty, cardiac surgeon and chairperson of Narayana Hrudayalaya of Bangalore, said although the number of Maldivian patients visiting his hospital were not huge, the clamp would definitely hit medical tourism.

“On an average we get eight patients a month from Maldives. Despite the clamp, we plan to go ahead with our plans to collaborate with healthcare facilities in Maldives. A team is likely to leave for Maldives shortly,” said a spokesperson from the hospital’s International Division.

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