BANGKOK, 31 January 2011 (IRIN) - From hip replacements to hysterectomies, southeast Asian countries have seen a rapid growth in medical tourism, with about two million international patients a year seeking bargains there.
But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), medical tourism is leading to some highly skilled specialists, as well as other trained medical staff, leaving public health facilities for private ones. Further down the medical hierarchy unemployed or undertrained staff end up filling chronic shortages in remote areas.
Churnrurtai Kanchanachitra, a professor at Thailand’s Mahidol University and co-author of a recent paper on health worker shortages and the international trade in health services, warned of the dangers:
“There are five countries [in Southeast Asia] facing a shortage of health professionals, mostly in rural areas,” said Kanchanachitra. “This will only become a more pressing issue with the continued growth in trade in health services.”