The arrival in the country of a growing number of Russian women who fly to have their babies in local medical institutions, attended by Argentine professionals, is hardly the most recent manifestation of the phenomenon that already has three shines of growth and expansion: the so-called medical tourism that Argentina is becoming an increasingly important “hub”, both between neighboring nations and others more distant. And, more recently – due to the geopolitical conditions in the country and factors such as the Russo-Ukrainian war – it has been resistant. In fact, local clinics have already registered patients not only from Russia, but also from the Middle East and even some European countries or the southern United States. All of this is part of a clear global trend in which the category “medical tourism” grows at a rate of 25% per year.
The most recent manifestation of this phenomenon was reflected in a report published by the daily The Guardianwho revealed – citing data from the Russian embassy – that since the war began some 2,500 Russians have moved to Argentina: “many were pregnant women choosing this country to have their children born”. And a consular official hypothesized that, by 2023, it could exceed 10,000, especially due to the so-called “birth tourism.”
However, the recent fact of parturients choosing the local tranquility and the benefits of an Argentine passport does not seem framed in medical tourism. “More and more people come to be treated in health institutions in Argentina for various reasons, we explained to PROFILE Pablo PaltrinieriVice President of the Argentine Chamber of Medical Tourism (CATM).
Argentine medicine along with Brazil is one of the best in Latin America
Paltrinieri, who is also commercial director of the Private hospital University in Córdoba, explained that “however, The case of Russian pregnant women is not common in Argentina and it was probably driven by an exceptional geopolitical situation because few countries guarantee unrestricted access to Russian citizens, with few formalities”. something similar to the doctor Enrique Perez Gras. For this one international patient consultant of the Southern Hospital”,the theme of these parts is punctual. Russia is too far away for this to become common practice in the next few years.”
According to Paltrinieri there are other explanations for the rise of this tourism. The first is the possibility of receive excellent medical care that offers from simple cosmetic surgeries to highly complex practices, in institutions and professionals whose quality has been internationally certified. further, Argentine medicine, possibly together with that of Brazil, is considered among the best in Latin America.
Second, due to devaluation, these practices have very competitive costs. “Today in Argentina almost any medical benefit can be obtained at a cost of up to 30% less –in dollars– than in other countries in the region. And at 50% of what it costs in the US.”, exemplified the expert. In addition, there is a wide offer of providers that allows options. Finally, there is the fact that we are a quality tourist destination”.
These advantages explain why medical tourism in Argentina is on the rise. “According to the data that we recorded, until the pandemic, it was an item with a growth between 25 and 30%Paltrinieri said. And he emphasized that – until 2019 – it was already estimated that between 15 and 20 thousand people were arriving from abroad per year specifically for medical reasons. And in the last months of 2022, “even without consolidated statistics, the demand in number of patients already exceeds what happened before the pandemic,” added the manager.
Well implemented, medical tourism can become a generator of foreign exchange in the future
There is also a technological factor that helps to oil these medical practices: telemedicine. According to the CATM, “many patients can carry out subsequent check-ups remotely with the team that treated them and the collaboration of a local professional, who -in addition- often trained or emigrated from Argentina”.
What are the practices most demanded by the patients who come for care? Between 55 and 60% seek curative medicine(specific operations and treatments, radiology, etc.); 30% are practices related to cosmetic surgeries and finally a 10% related to wellness tourismweight control etc
According to data from the CATM, the medical tourism segment –if it is correctly articulated between the State that regulates and private providers– can become in the immediate future a currency generator and a source of quality employment. Paltrinieri explained that “today we are receiving, for this item, barely 2% of what Mexico or Thailand receives.” And Pérez Gras added that “we believe that we can grow by receiving more patients from Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Also from various countries in Central America and the Caribbean.” And both concluded by highlighting the economic potential that this sector promises for Argentina.
A recipe to improve income
To fully understand the entity that has the economic side associated with this item, it must be remembered that these people they usually stay in the country between two and six weeks and settle with at least one companion because it is estimated that three out of four of these specific tourists travel with a companion, according to data from the Chamber.
“In total, these patients can generate an economic movement of around US$ 25,000, on average”summarizes Paltrinieri. Tourists spend between five and nine times more than a traditional one. According to data collected by the organization “Patients beyond borders”the global market of the sector already generates a Billing between US$ 74 thousand and US$ 92 billion.
Paltrinieri also explained that Argentina offers practices with varied costs: an eye operation can go from US$500 to US$5,000; a birth is around US$3,000 and a bone marrow transplant can reach US$70,000. How is it paid? In 60% of cases the money comes out of the patient’s pocket. The other 40% is financed by international medical insurance.
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