Medical tourism in the Caribbean Islands: is this a cure for ailing economies?

CARIBBEAN: Medical tourism in the Caribbean Islands: a cure for economies in crisis?

A new paper argues that local claims of the potential for medical tourism in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands are unrealistic due to the limited health resources and skills available.

Professor John Connell of the University of Sydney, Australia, has written a paper ‘Medical Tourism in the Caribbean Islands: A Cure for Economies in Crisis? ', published by The University of Prince Edward Island.

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”Small island states have increasingly sought new means of economic diversification. Several Caribbean states have begun to develop medical tourism, partly building on existing tourist-oriented economies. Medical tourism has boomed in this century in several states in Asia and in Central America. The Bahamas, Barbados and the Cayman Islands exemplify different strategies for medical tourism, in order to generate foreign exchange and new employment, and reduce costs from overseas referrals. Most medical tourism projects have been developed by overseas corporations and are oriented to a US market. Business principles rather than healthcare dominate development strategies, notably of emerging transnational medical corporations, and raise ethical issues. Success will be difficult to achieve in a crowded and competitive market.”

Connell is critical of the strategies of Caribbean countries. He suggests that some can develop a limited medical tourism industry if they focus on nationals who have gone to live overseas and/or offer limited niche offerings for overseas Jamaicans when they visit; only if they can attract skilled doctors and nurses back from overseas.

Most Caribbean islands have some potential for medical tourism as:
•  They are familiar to tourists from North America and Latin America.
•  They are easily accessible by the target Americas markets.
•  They have tourism oriented economies and infrastructure.
•  English is the main language and Spanish is spoken too.
•  Most island states have modern healthcare systems.
•  Diasporic tourism (locals and their descendents who live abroad) is significant. 

But they all have common problems-
•  Healthcare systems are adequate but not as complete or up to date as many of the countries they are targeting.
•  There are concerns over quality of care and aftercare.
•  Where quality of care is essential, it is hard for small states to market or prove this.
•  They face strong regional competition from Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica and others where travel costs and care costs are lower.

The number of island states seeking to develop medical tourism continues to grow, despite the problems, and the challenges ..Read more 



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