10 Important things Expats Need to Know about Healthcare in India

India’s colorful culture, bustling cities, and vibrant cuisine make it an exciting destination for many expats to live and work. In fact, a UN report estimates that this already densely populated country will become the most populous country in the world by 2022.

So, whether you’re moving to the heart of Delhi or the picture-postcard beaches of Goa, here are 10 things you might want to know about healthcare before you move to India.


  1. Public healthcare

There are many challenges facing the healthcare system in India: the standard of public health services often fall below the expectations of those from Westernized countries, and may not be easily accessible for people living in certain areas of the country. Hospitals are usually overcrowded, understaffed and may lack the necessary equipment due to low public expenditure on health. However, the situation is gradually improving. For example, in recent decades the government has succeeded in eliminating polio from India and has successfully taken action against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

In addition, the healthcare system operates on a fee-for-service (FFS) basis, as opposed to value-based models which is widely believed to deliver better – and more impartial – treatment at lower cost.

  1. National Health Bill

In 2009, India introduced its National Health Bill, which focused on making access to healthcare a fundamental human right for India’s population, regardless of financial status. India’s draft National Health Policy, 2015, planned to make healthcare available for all residents, and suggested that denying healthcare should be an offence. There are still discrepancies in the quality and availability of healthcare around the country, though.

  1. Rural vs. urban healthcare

The Indian government launched the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in 2005 with the aim of providing affordable, high-quality and accessible healthcare to vulnerable residents in remote areas of India. The NRHM is a decentralized health system that takes action on prevalent rural issues such as sanitation, nutrition, water and health education. Whilst this could be seen as progress towards a better infrastructure in rural areas, healthcare can still differ in quality and availability between rural and urban areas. Therefore, expats might want to research the availability of healthcare facilities in their region and consider taking precautions such as having good access to reliable transport or private healthcare insurance.

  1. Private healthcare

Despite India’s determination to improve its public healthcare offering, expats may want to take out international health insurance so that they have access to private medical facilities and services. These are often significantly better than the standard of care received through public healthcare. Most private hospitals provide a wide range of high-quality services, including physiotherapy, and there are specialist hospitals that can offer more advanced procedures, such as treatment for heart and coronary diseases.

  1. Low-cost healthcare

Many foreign nationals choose to visit India to take advantage of its comparatively low-cost treatments. For example, while an artery-clearing coronary bypass might cost $106,385 at certain clinics in the US, the same procedure is available for $1,583 at some medical centers in India. Chemotherapy can cost up to $70,000 per year in the US, but patients can receive the same treatment for $2,500 per year in India. The compromise is that such low-cost treatments and the generally lower standard of facilities in India can leave patients more vulnerable to infectious diseases and exposed to organisms against which they have no protection. People traveling to India for surgery may need to provide certain documents, such as marriage certificates and birth certificates, before they can receive treatment. Unmarried women are able to access prenatal care and abortions in India, though abortions are only permitted on medical, socioeconomic and health grounds.

  1. Health risks

Swine influenza A has been a problem in India for many years. In 2010, the country introduced a vaccine to protect high-risk people (such as pregnant women, young children, and people aged 50 or over) from this disease. There is also a risk of malaria, which can be defended against by taking anti-malarial drugs, using mosquito repellent and wearing long, loose clothing. Other possible mosquito-related risks are chikungunya, dengue fever and the Zika virus. In major cities like Delhi and Mumbai, air pollution is a major hazard and can worsen existing respiratory conditions.

  1. Needles

Reusing needles is a common practice in hospitals, doctor surgeries and dental facilities in India, as a way of keeping costs down. As the needles are not always sterilized properly, patients can be put at risk of contracting viruses like hepatitis or HIV. If an expat is concerned that a needle is unclean, they can ask the medical professional to use a new one, or sterilize it thoroughly. In some hospitals, doctors may even ask patients to bring in their own needles.

  1. Vaccinations and medical checks

Expats are not required to have vaccinations to live in India, but they could consider getting vaccinated against Japanese B encephalitis, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, meningitis and rabies, as well as the standard diphtheria, hepatitis A and typhoid. Due to the ongoing problems with swine flu, people travelling to India are required to fill out a health screening card before they arrive.

  1. Pharmacies and medication

Most private medical facilities and shopping centers in major Indian cities will have pharmacies available, with good supplies of low-cost medication. Many pharmacies only stock medicines under their generic names, rather than branded options. In rural areas, pharmacies are less readily available, so expats might want to ensure they have a good supply of any necessary medication before they travel.

  1. Emergencies

In the case of a medical emergency, 112 is the number to dial for an ambulance. Some patients prefer to make their own way to hospital rather than wait for an ambulance, as ambulances can sometimes be ill-equipped and inadequately staffed. Expats might want to research the local hospitals and decide which is most appropriate, especially in the event of needing emergency treatment. If they have public health insurance, they could contact their local private hospital and ask them to send out an ambulance to collect them, rather than relying on a taxi or driving there in person (even if able).

In summary

The Indian government is working hard to introduce initiatives to improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of its public healthcare system, but progress is slow. Expats moving to the country might want to research their nearest hospital and the standard of healthcare in the region, as this can vary significantly depending on whether they are living in a rural location or a more affluent area. Due to inconsistency of medical facilities on offer, many expats choose to take out private health insurance so that they can receive a better standard of treatment in case of an emergency.

Disclaimer: The information included in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute professional advice or replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. All information contained herein is subject to change.

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