Demonetisation of high value currency notes has added to the problems of several foreign nationals who are in India to medical treatment. They claim that they are facing difficulties in getting exchange for foreign currency and paying hospital, food and accommodation bills.
“Most currency exchanges agree to change $100 dollars a day, which means I have to make several trips to get enough money to pay bills and rent,” said Elizabeth Njeri Mukui, a Kenyan, who is in Delhi with her parents who are being treated for skin cancer (melanoma) and prostate cancer at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
The kindness of strangers helped Makui survive the worst of it. “A week after I landed in India, the ban on Rs 500 and 1,000 notes was announced. A lot of the money that I had exchanged was in the scrapped notes. But, the hospital was helpful and accepted the money,” she said.
Makui had rented a flat in East of Kailash for over R20,000 per month. There were days when she got bread and milk from a neighbourhood grocery store on promise that she would pay for it when she got new currency notes. “I really respect the owner for trusting me. I don’t think anyone in Kenya would have given things without money,” she said.
The medical tourism industry in India is valued at $2 billion in 2015, with India issuing 1.3 lakh medical visas that year. Africa accounts for more than half the overseas patients (51.5%), followed by Asia and the Pacific (22.5%), and the Americas (15.7%), shows ministry of Tourism data.
Another woman from Tanzania, who is Delhi for her son’s lukaemia treatment, said the forex agencies were giving them less value for a dollar than the official exchange rate. “I have been travelling to India since 2007 for the treatment of my son’s leukaemia (blood cancer) without any problem. This time, instead of the Rs 68 that I should get for every dollar according to the current rates, I am only getting Rs 60. This means my whole budget has gone for a toss,” said the mother, who did not wish to be named.
Tylanni Wangchuk, who has come from Bhutan with her family for annual medical check-ups at Max Superspecialty Saket, has had to live on a budget. “When we left Bhutan, we were allowed to exchange a limited amount of currency and now have to budget everything -- from food to accommodation. We can’t exchange more money because the queues at currency exchanges are endless,” she said.
Aina Anniava from Russia, in Delhi for her mother’s cancer treatment, is also struggling to change currency. “My mother is in the cancer ward and I have to stay with her. I can’t spend hours queuing up to change currency,” says Anniava, who had arrived with some dollars and old notes. “Can you help change some for me?”
Private hospitals across the city are trying to help the international patients.
“After demonetisation, our foreign patients are facing problems in getting new currency notes. For their medical needs, the hospital is accepting payments in various foreign currencies, via direct transfers to our bank accounts, cheques, and through mobile wallets like Paytm,” authorities at Max Healthcare said.
“However, the patients/ attendants are unable to meet their day-to-day expenses. Max Healthcare plans to tie-up with various hotels, guest houses and eating joints near our hospitals, which will allow our patients/attendants to use these services cashless,” they said.