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Health Equity Impacts of Medical Tourism in the Caribbean: The Need to Provide Actionable Guidance Regarding Balancing Local and Foreign Interests



Medical tourism is a practice where individuals cross international borders with the intention of privately purchasing healthcare. Caribbean countries are increasingly entering into the medical tourism market, which presents both opportunities and dangers. Our previous fieldwork shows that medical tourism requires host countries to balance the interests of private developers and domestic actors, including those accessing healthcare locally. Discussions with stakeholders in Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Barbados and St Lucia demonstrate concrete instances of this problem. Firstly, medical tourism can enhance training and employment opportunities for domestic health-workers. In doing so, it may exacerbate the inequitable distribution of these workers between the public and private sectors. Secondly, the expansion of private medical services can provide locals with more care options. These facilities may also crowd out existing local operators and price out local consumers. Thirdly, medical tourism is hailed as potentially cross-subsidizing and strengthening the local public health system. It may also heighten health inequities and distract local attention from the needs of the public health sector. Caribbean stakeholders are aware of the promise and dangers of medical tourism. However, they lack clear advice from medical tourism researchers about how to navigate these issues, and specifically balancing local and foreign interests. We call on researchers to shift focus from highlighting the theoretical problems associated with medical tourism to providing concrete guidance to stakeholders in a position to decide whether or not to pursue medical tourism development and to shape this development when it takes place.

January 5, 2015
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