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There is wealth in wellness

india Updated: Aug 27, 2010 20:46 IST
Shalini Singh

After food, clothing and shelter, what do people want? Healthcare, most certainly. While one-billion-people-strong India sees a strong surge in jobs and basic needs, the business of healing the sick and taking care of them is understandably set for an explosion.

The numbers are telling. Though estimates vary between industry chambers or consulting firms, the broad consensus is of a decade ahead in which hospital beds, jobs and facilities including equipment and laboratories will mushroom.

Medical tourism to cash in on cost-friendly Indian medicare and the growth of medical insurance will also drive growth, say industry executives.

Naturally, India Inc —aided by global capital and entrepreneurial zeal is set to pump in hundreds of millions of dollars, eyeing growth and profits. Groups such as Fortis, Max (offshoots of Ranbaxy founders) and Apollo Hospitals have been joined by hot startups such as cardiologist Naresh Trehan’s Medanta group in a boom that makes some say that this is India’s next IT: with foreign exchange earnings and job opportunities to match.

Apart from doctors, nurses and paramedics, the industry is also throwing up jobs in activities like clinical trials, in which India is emerging as a new base.

The Indian healthcare market is expected to grow from US$ 35 billion in 2006 to $ 77 billion in 2012, according to a YES bank and ASSOCHAM report(see graphic).

“The opportunities are huge and the profit will be good in India's healthcare in the coming years,” said Shiv Raman Dugal, chairman of Institute for Clinical Research in India (ICRI).

Malvinder Singh, chairman of Fortis Healthcare, said India currently has 1.2-beds per 1,000 citizens compared to the world average of 3.96. “As a country we need to add 1.7 million beds by 2025 to get closer to the world average, and I see the growth trajectory momentum accelerating,” he told Hindustan Times.

Suneeta Reddy, executive director at Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd, adds, “The history of any developing country shows that healthcare grows after food and shelter. In India we have reached an inflection point in healthcare — by 2012-13, it’ll grow by 20-25 per cent.”

An ageing population and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are feeding higher spending on wellness. Healthcare firms are lining up facilities to match every budget.

Apollo has planned a different strategy for smaller ‘Tier-2’ cities. “Since land cost is lower in these cities, Tier-2 centres will operate at lower costs than the metro ones. Markets and competition will dictate the type of facilities. In the next two years, we’re looking at completing 2,000 beds all over India,” Reddy said.

Fortis plans to add 1,000 beds in the current fiscal year. “We have a pan India network of 48 hospitals, which is growing the availability of super specialty care to patients around the country,” Singh said.

Max Healthcare (division of Max India) that runs eight centres in NCR plans to up its bed count from 850 to 2000 by 2011, serving cities across north India, said CEO Pervez Ahmed. “The company is looking to enter the surgical space, as well as the graduate and post-graduate sector by setting up a clinical research institute and a medical college in the next three years,” he said.

Heart surgeon Naresh Trehan who pumped in about R1500 crores in his 43-acre Medanta Medicity hospital in Gurgaon that opened about six months back said,

“The demand for healthcare in India is increasing as people are becoming more aware. The perception is that healthcare is the new sunrise sector.”

Pramod Kabra, Mumbai-based director-clinical operations at PRA International (an international clinical research organisation) said private players are catering to lifestyle diseases as government spends more on basic health.

"It's justified to be bullish about India's healthcare, though we have a lot of catching up to do,”said Gurgaon-based Shoibal Mukherjee, senior vice-president at contract research firm GVK Bio

Doctors are also waking up to the fact that they can earn better pay for their work.

Salaries match other professions: ordinary graduates can earn between R20, 000 to R45, 000 per month.

India’s medical tourism sector is expected to grow 30 per cent annually from 2009 to 2015, according to a report by consulting firm Deloitte.