News / Asia

Concerns Grow Over Medical Tourism in Asia

A Thai nurse takes temperature and blood pressure of a patient from Middle East prior to seeing a doctor at Thailand's top private hospital, Bumrungrad International, in Bangkok, 06 September 2006.
A Thai nurse takes temperature and blood pressure of a patient from Middle East prior to seeing a doctor at Thailand's top private hospital, Bumrungrad International, in Bangkok, 06 September 2006.
TEXT SIZE - +
Ira Mellman

One of the fastest growing businesses around the world, particularly in Asia, is medical Tourism.

How fast is medical tourism growing? Dr David Vequist, who heads the Center for Medical Tourism Research in San Antonio, Texas says one medical research organization predicts explosive growth.

“According to Fox and Sullivan, by 2012, it’s expected to be worldwide about a $100-billion business, and it’s growing worldwide from 20 to 30 percent. There was a recent estimate that in Asia alone, it was growing as much as 17 percent," he said.

And Vequist says many of the medical facilities around the world are giving the best medical facilities in the United States a run for their money.

“The Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, the Texas Medical Center, MD Anderson, Cedar Sinai, these really great facilities in the United States that arguably are among the best in the world are receiving more and more competition from best in class facilities in places like Turkey at Parkway Hospital or Bumrungrad in Thailand or Severance in Korea. These locations around the world are getting very good," he said.

But then there is the down side. Glen Cohen, Co-Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at the Harvard Law School says there is evidence that profitable medical tourism is taking away medical services from the poor in some host countries

“In India, for example, there have been a number of anecdotal claims that the existence of the medical tourism industry has siphoned doctors away from treating poor Indian patients and has basically resulted in a net loss for India’s poor. There are others who say no, it’s quite the opposite, that there is an infusion of technology, there is trickledown economics. Again, it’s a contested empirical claim. But beyond that, there is an ethical claim about whether you’ve done something wrong," he said.

Much of China’s medical tourism industry has focused on organ transplants, reportedly about 10,000 of them a year, mostly kidney and organ transplants. The Chinese government has admitted that some of the organs for transplantation have come from executed prisoners.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of California at Berkley and a co-founder and director of the medical rights organization Organs Watch says many of those have lead to very bad results.

“I am in touch [with] a number of families who have had disastrous transplants in China because it was so unregulated. A family named the McGalkers, in Israel, they were of Indian background, went to China in 2009. It was just a horror show. The father had a botched transplant with a 15 year old village girl. Mr. McGalker died and as a result had to be air shipped out, the young donor died. This is serious business. Not just using executed prisoners but setting up living liver transplants and no regulation," she said.

That has recently changed as China has enacted new regulations surrounding transplants. One proposed law would give the death penalty to anyone found guilty of illegal organ trafficking. However Scheper-Hughes says the entire process brings up troubling consequences.

“It does turn doctors and ministries of health into brokers because you still have to find people and it’s not going to be your children or my children. It’s going to be ethnic minorities, the poor, the desperate, the imprisoned people, the people who are looking for visas, the displaced populations of the world, the refugees," she said.

China is also moving forward on plans to set up and market treatment using stem cell therapy that, for the most part, is unavailable in the United States.

Professor Glenn Cohen of the Harvard law school said, “Many scientists think in the next 50 years or so, many of the breakthroughs in medicine may be related to stem cell therapies. So obviously this is promising and obviously with terminally ill patients who have exhausted all approved therapies or clinical therapies in the U.S., the calculus is quite different in terms of the safety and efficacy. But there are significant risks when you engage in any experimental therapy and stem cells are no different. And I’m not really aware of too many success stories in this regard.”

If you are considering availing yourself of the ever growing medical tourism offerings, Cohen said in addition to ethical concerns, there are at least three concerns that must be addressed.

“One is the quality of service that’s being provided to you abroad. The second concern is that if something does go wrong, what is your ability to recover a medical malpractice by suing the doctors abroad, and the third maybe is the willingness to get a doctor in your home country to engage in follow up care, the availability of health records and what the quality of care will be back home," he said.

Even with all of these concerns, medical tourism continues to expand. Reasons why and some services that are likely to become available, are the subject of the next report.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid