Notwithstanding an Australian-Indian free trade agreement on the horizon, the outlook for Australian aged care providers considering setting up in India have been described as ‘high volume, low margin’.
With the Indian and Australian governments committed to developing a free trade agreement this year, major aged care operators are eyeing the possible opportunities arising from greater access to the country of 1.3 billion people and its growing middle class.
When China signed its free trade agreement with Australia last November, experts here predicted that the export of Australian aged care knowledge and services to that country would increase.
However, while China has official plans to dramatically boost the development of its aged care industry (government targets to double the number of aged care beds to eight million by 2020), India has virtually no aged care infrastructure and little government support to develop the sector, according to an industry figure who recently visited the country as part of a Federal Government trade delegation.
Klaus Zimmerman, former aged care executive and CEO of CommonAge, the body established to promote best practice in aged care across Commonwealth countries, said there were opportunities for Australian aged services in India, but they were largely related to training in specific areas of demand such as dementia and palliative care.
“If you’re going over there to make money in aged care, you’re not going to, in the short-term; the country is not set up for it,” he told Australia Ageing Agenda.
While India had a massively ageing population, Mr Zimmerman described it as a country “getting old before it gets rich” whereas Australia “got rich before it got old.”
While there was extreme wealth in India, there was a lot of extreme poverty, compounded by the fact that 50 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, he said.
India does not have a residential aged care system as such, and no government support at the state or federal level to build facilities, Mr Zimmerman said.
“The focus of the aged care providers that are there is home care, but home care that is very different to Australia’s. People are very poorly trained; in many cases they’re illiterate. Often they don’t understand basic personal hygiene, so home care for them is very different, it’s about helping the older person in any way they can.”
Opportunities in training
Beth Cameron, CEO of Leading Age Services WA, who was also on the trade delegation to India, described aged care services in India as “crying out for information, help and support.”
She said Indian providers were keen to build relationships with Australia and were looking for investment and joint venture opportunities.
“For people who are interested in the Indian market there is not going to be a better time to go there – the politics are aligning and the conversations are happening,” said Ms Cameron, referring to the Indian and Australian governments ongoing work towards a FTA.
“They are desperate for education and training; it was the number one issue across every single sector,” Ms Cameron told AAA. “On the information front, they were looking for expertise in palliative care and dementia. They were keen to know which providers were doing it well in Australia, who is interested in the [Indian] market and who could be a potential partner.”
Mr Zimmerman similarly singled out dementia and palliative care as areas in demand in India.
“The opportunity in India is around training,” he said. He noted one Australian training provider was established in India, but that it was charging just 10 per cent of its standard fees in Australia.
Unlike the Chinese situation, providers eyeing India may be advised to proceed now without waiting for a FTA between India and Australia to be signed.
“Providers there told me that if you want to do aged care in India, don’t wait on the government, just get in there and do what you have to do. There are no regulations, no accreditation systems and no government money,” said Mr Zimmerman.
CommonAge: seeking to support Indian services
Meanwhile, Mr Zimmerman said CommonAge was working to determine how it could support India’s fledgling aged care association, the head of which met with the Australian delegation.
“One of the reasons we formed CommonAge is because most of the countries in the Commonwealth are third world countries or emerging markets, and the aged care system in those countries is very poor. Our long-term aim is to try to get associations going in those Commonwealth countries, and perhaps get some government regulation going,” Mr Zimmerman said.
The group is looking at how it can foster a closer link with the new Indian aged care association, potentially by providing pro-bono resources and materials, he said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to go over there and provide actual training, but we can provide them with the resources, mentoring, and then if someone else wants to form associations we can provide that sort of assistance.”