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The quality of healthcare in India varies, but expats living in major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru shouldn't struggle to find highly-qualified and experienced English-speaking medical practitioners at private hospitals. Healthcare facilities in rural areas are more limited.
Most expats make use of private healthcare in India seeing that state funding for public healthcare is shockingly low. Of course, private healthcare doesn't come cheap, and we recommend expats definitely take out private health insurance to cover their medical bills.
Public healthcare in India
India's public health policies and government family planning programmes are overseen at a national level by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. But each state is responsible for providing health services to their residents and, as such, standards vary across the country.
Public hospitals in India often employ well-trained English-speaking doctors, but a lack of equipment, funding and staff place serious strain on the government sector. There have been both government-led and public-private partnerships collectively working on initiatives to improve the availability and quality of healthcare in urban and rural areas in India.
Unfortunately, India’s public hospitals remain overcrowded, waiting lists for treatment are long and conditions aren't always hygienic. Public healthcare facilities in rural areas are even more limited.
Access to state hospitals and healthcare is free and subsidised for Indian citizens who fall below the poverty line. Expats working in India, and most middle class locals, usually opt for private healthcare.
Private healthcare in India
Private hospitals in India are of much better standards and preferred by most expats. They are also preferred by Indian locals, some of whom pay for these services out of pocket.
Private hospitals can be used in non-emergencies for most medical needs, including regular check-ups and consultations. While there are many private facilities in cities such as Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai, expats should research to find out which of their local healthcare providers best suits their needs.
Across India, private practitioners offer a range of medical services, including scientifically-supported allopathic, Western medicine as well as traditional and alternative treatments including Ayurveda and homoeopathy.
Health insurance for expats in India
All expats moving to India should ensure that they have adequate health insurance coverage. Working expats might have international health insurance provided by their employer, but it's important to keep in mind that some policies will only cover treatment at certain hospitals. New arrivals should investigate the terms of their given policy and make sure they understand what it covers. If there are limitations to the cover offered, they should consider paying extra for a more comprehensive policy.
Some international insurance providers may not be recognised by Indian hospitals, and in these cases, patients will have to pay cash out of pocket. If this does happen, keeping all the necessary paperwork is essential if they want to be reimbursed by their insurer.
Pharmacies in India
Pharmacies are common in major Indian cities. They're attached to most private medical facilities or in major shopping precincts. Most types of medication will be readily available and the costs are generally low.
Note that when travelling to more rural areas, expats must ensure that they have a supply of any necessary medication because pharmacies may not be as well stocked in such places.
Health hazards in India
New arrivals in India need to be especially careful when it comes to water and food hygiene – having an upset stomach is a common complaint of newcomers. Tap water in India is not usually safe, so it's best to use boiled or bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth. Ice cubes should be avoided. It's also a good idea to be wary of eating meat at street vendors and restaurants – at the very least, expats should make sure that their meal is hot and properly cooked.
Mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, are present throughout much of the country. We recommend that expats take precautions against mosquito bites by using a repellent and covering up at dusk. Seeking medical advice about prophylaxis before moving to India is advisable.
India is also subject to natural disasters. Floods and landslides are common during monsoon season, typically June to October, and there are safety hazards linked to earthquakes in the northern mountainous regions, as well as cyclones and tropical storms off the east coast. It's important to stay updated on the latest news in India and call for help in case of emergencies.
Emergency services in India
While most private hospitals in India provide ambulance services at an additional fee, calling an ambulance is not always the best way to get to the hospital. Traffic congestion is a major problem in Indian cities and motorists often ignore an ambulance's siren. Some residents report that private transport is often the fastest way to get to the hospital, although ambulances can provide vital support en route to the hospital.
To call an ambulance in the event of an emergency, dial 102. The national emergency number is 112.
"There are a few good hospitals. Aiims is famous here and is pretty good. I have had some operations here in Delhi, but still prefer to travel to Australia for anything major." Read more in our expat interview with Gabriel.
"The private healthcare system puts the NHS to shame. The hospitals are spotlessly clean and extremely efficient." See how this British expat rates India's healthcare in our interview with Striddle.
Are you an expat living in India?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to India. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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