November 19, 2017

MEDICAL TOURISM

By Anu Dev

Medical tourism can be considered a kind of import: instead of the product coming to the consumer, as it does with cars or sneakers, the consumer is going to the product – James Suroweicki

It’s November, which means that it’s Tourism Month again. This year, the theme is “Sustainable tourism – A Tool for Development”
I was a bit surprised; however, that medical tourism wasn’t touted at the launch of the Month, since this is one of the most lucrative and growing areas of tourism. A few years back, when I was still at Queen’s, medical tourism was in the air in conjunction with the proposed “Specialty Hospital”. But even if the latter has been shelved, it doesn’t mean the former has to die. Just like other types of tourism, “medical tourism” — as the quote above reminds us — is a special reverse type of import; here, the import (the medical tourist) actually comes to buy the product (medical treatment), and leaves the foreign funds in Guyana, rather than sending it abroad!
And those “foreign funds” are astronomical. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), medical tourism contributed 9 per cent of global GDP (more than US$6 trillion) and accounted for 255 million jobs in 2011. So, while our regular tourist numbers are inching ever upwards, I believe we should keep on in that area; especially since we have several medical schools in Guyana, and another is slated to open next year — which I understand will have an adjunct hospital.
Medical tourism brings in more than twice the spending of foreign tourists; so while we’re not going to be exactly overrun by tourists in downtown Georgetown, you’d be surprised how many relatives, friends and ‘significant others’ of patients will fill up the Marriott, Pegasus, Ramada Princess, and all the other smaller hotels that now dot our – dare I say it – once and future Garden City.
With angioplasties (for instance) going for $100,000 in the United States (and we are talking about US greenbacks here!) versus the $11,000 that India charges — even if we go to $15,000 — there’s still a lot of wriggle room for the surgery to be done in Guyana, and rake in all the side benefits of regular tourism.
And what the studies on the major players in medical medicine – India, Thailand — have shown is that, having come for the medical treatment, the foreign patients do get an opportunity to see the country and its attractions. And why shouldn’t they come to see our dear land of Guyana? We have so many beautiful sights to behold and places to visit. The land itself has done half of the work, all we Guyanese have to do is to market the beauty! And medical tourism can be another arrow in our marketing quiver to do this. Brazil is also a big player in medical tourism.
Another type of medical tourists that we can attract would be our Guyanese diaspora in the United States and Canada, which is fighting socialised medicine tooth and nail. For some reason, not many officials talk about the number of these “foreigners” who return to Guyana to have their dentures replaced. They cost at least ten times less than in the United States. Maybe our Specialty Hospital can also do dental surgery, as for instance Costa Rica does.
In the latter country, dental care can cost as much as 70 per cent less than in the United States. More than 40,000 medical tourists visited Costa Rica in 2011, a third for dental care. Guyana, like Costa Rica, is but a short trip from the United States, and it offers orthopedics, cardiology, spine, cosmetic and bariatric (obesity) surgery.
So let’s think – and act – outside the box and watch our tourism revenues swell! And not so incidentally provide higher paid employment to our swelling number of doctors!