India has launched a big initiative to woo medical tourism from Canada, showcasing the country’s high-end and much cheaper healthcare industry to Canadians.

The Indian Medical Travel Association (IMTA) launched the three-day ‘India: Medical Tourism Destination 2009’ conference here Thursday - the first such initiative abroad by the Indian healthcare industry.

India’s top-notch hospitals, including Max, Fortis, Apollo and the Asian Heart Institute, are participating in the medical tourism conference.

As the organisers said at the opening of the conference, the Indian medical foray into Canada comes at a time when this country’s public healthcare is becoming expensive and wait period getting longer.

“Lots of Canadians are already coming to India for medical treatment because of long waiting period here...even for an MRI you have to wait for three to four months,” said Pradeep Thukral, Director of IMTA.

“We are here to tell Canadians that India offers first-world medical care at third-world rates. An open heart surgery in North America costs up to $100,000. But in India, it will cost you just $10,000, including airfare and five-star accommodation,” said Thukral.

“After the IT sector, the Indian medical tourism sector is the next big thing. A study has shown that this sector will grow to $2 billion by 2012. Already, we have crossed the figure of $600 million,” he said.

Describing India as the emerging global healthcare hub, Thukral said more than 500,000 foreigners came for treatment in 2008.

“And this traffic is growing by 30 percent each year. Nearly half of these people came from the West.”

Citing reasons that will boost medical tourism to India, he said: “Since there are so many Indian-origin doctors in the US and Canada, people from here coming to India will have a comfort level because they already know Indian doctors. Further, all Indian doctors and nurses speak English.” he added.

Well-known commentator Narottam Puri, who heads the Fortis Healthcare Group, said the current expensive healthcare system in North America was not sustainable.

“We are here to showcase that India has reached that stage where it offers the best in medicare. We are here to tell them that India is a great destination for healthcare as well as for collaboration. We have no dearth of medical manpower (India produces 30,000 new doctors each year) and we have a diverse genetic pool for drug testing,” Puri said.

On the first day of the three-day conference, many Canadians could be seen making inquiries about treatment in India.

“I am exploring the possibility of a knee operation in India because of the long waiting list here,” said a woman who refused to give her name.

The IMTA, which represents 55 top hospitals in India, has organised the conference in collaboration with the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and the Indian consulate here.

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