Fertility in Paradise?
October 16, 2006
By: Shelagh McNally for Uterus1
Conceiving in paradise has taken on a whole new twist. Foreigners are flocking to Thailand for fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer (ET). These “fertility tourists” are part of a larger trend dubbed medical tourism. Close to half a million foreigners visited India and Thailand last year for a variety of surgeries that ranged from hip replacement to IVF, offered at one-third the cost of US and European prices.
|The Downside to Medical Tourism|
|While the price is right, medical tourism does have some risks. Experts have identified the following risks:The patient must pay up front with cash. Often government, basic medical insurance, and sometimes extended medical insurance will not pay for the medical procedure.|
There is little follow-up. Patients are in the hospital for a few days and then recuperate on vacation or at home. Any complications, side effects or post-operative care must be handled by the medical care system back home.
Some doctors are reluctant to take on medical tourists when they arrive back home because they were not involved with treatment from the beginning.
Most countries offering medical tourism have weak malpractice laws. If something goes wrong, the patient has little recourse.
Many believe the profitable, private-sector medical tourism is drawing medical resources and personnel away from the local population.
TYPICAL COSTS FOR MEDICAL TOURISM: Most of these foreign prices also include airfare, a vacation package, a private room and nurse.
Heart Valve Replacement - U.S.: $200,000; India: $10,000
Dental Bridge -
U.S.: $5,500; India: $500
Lasik eye surgery -U.S: $3,700; Cuba, Thailand, India: $730
Full facelift - U.S.: $20,000; South Africa: $1,250
Knee or Hip replacement - U.S.: $32,000; Thailand: $8,842
U.S.: $9,500-$15,000; Thailand: $3,000
“Medical tourists have good cause to seek out care beyond the United States for many reasons. In some regions of the world, state-of-the-art medical facilities are hard to come by, if they exist at all; in other countries, the public health-care system is so overburdened that it can take years to get needed care. For many medical tourists, though, the real attraction is price,” commented Frederick J. DeMicco, ARAMARK Chair in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management and author of a new book on medical tourism “Hospitality 2010: The Future of Hospitality and Travel.” Traveling for “sun and surgery” is expected to increase at the rate of 15 percent per year.
Thailand’s capital of Bangkok is home to two of the world’s best fertility clinics. Both the Bumrungrad International Hospital and Jetanin Institute for Assisted Reproduction are state-of-the-art medical facilities staffed by doctors who have trained and practiced in the United States. Like many of the medical tourist hospitals, both combine medicine with luxurious leisure.
“Clients come from Europe, the U.S. Japan, the Middle East and other countries in Asia,” said Phattaraphum Phophong, a fertility specialist at Bumrungrad International. “They have the first treatment and they go to Phuket (a famous beach) for a week.” He estimates that foreigners make up 60 percent of the 500 patients visiting the hospital's fertility clinic each month.
While IVF remains the most common procedure for fertility tourists some clinics have been carving out a niche by offering more controversial treatments. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a procedure originally created to screen IVF embryos for genetic defects such as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, and Huntington’s disease. It can also be used to determine gender, a practice banned in most countries. But when Thailand's Medical Council simply “advised” against sex selection, Thai clinics realized there was a gap in the market to be filled. “Many people come from Australia because the government does not allow sex selection. They also come from China and India," said Pinya Hunsajarupan, a doctor at Jetanin Institute for Assisted Reproduction, the biggest fertility clinic in Thailand. Pinya said that he was not too concerned about the ethical issues because very few were having the PGD treatment, which costs U.S. $7,000 per egg. But Phattaraphum is worried about the increasing number of PGD treatments. “I think we have to respect the embryo as a human, I don't think we should be able to select boys or girls,” he said. “Some couples come to see me and ask for this but I don't agree. I try to make them think about the human rights.”
Last updated: 16-Oct-06