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.
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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs