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Keywords:

  • medical tourism;
  • developing world bioethics;
  • medical travel;
  • commercialization of health care;
  • India;
  • health systems;
  • human rights

ABSTRACT

The past two decades have seen the extensive privatisation and marketisation of health care in an ever reaching number of developing countries. Within this milieu, medical tourism is being promoted as a rational economic development strategy for some developing nations, and a makeshift solution to the escalating waiting lists and exorbitant costs of health care in developed nations. This paper explores the need to problematize medical tourism in order to move beyond one dimensional neoliberal discourses that have, to date, dominated the arena. In this problematization, the paper discusses a range of understandings and uses of the term ‘medical tourism’ and situates it within the context of the neoliberal economic development of health care internationally. Drawing on theory from critical medical anthropology and health and human rights perspectives, the paper critically analyzes the assumed independence between the medical tourism industry and local populations facing critical health issues, where social, cultural and economic inequities are widening in terms of access, cost and quality of health care. Finally, medical tourism is examined in the local context of India, critiquing the increasingly indistinct roles played by government and private sectors, whilst linking these shifts to global market forces.