By Thierry Malleret, economist

Medical and wellness tourism often get badly confused, but a key question is whether medical tourism improves – or not – a country’s own economic and social wellness. Often, medical tourism only highlights the flaws of a country’s healthcare system, both on the supply and demand sides.

In India, for example, medical tourists can be seen both as the cause and the solution to the country’s healthcare problems. 300,000 U.S. citizens travel there for treatment every year, mainly for financial reasons – because they cannot afford health costs at home.

Some argue that those medical tourism revenues help India grow its healthcare system and improve local care. Others claim that it merely shifts resources to private hospitals catering to elites at the expense of public institutions serving the poor (86 percent of India’s rural population lacks health insurance).

Back to the rising issue of the need for more inclusivity in health and wellness, high-end medical tourism facilities, in India and elsewhere, will need to implement complementary programs to ensure that the poorest members of the local community can also access medical care.

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