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Domestic medical tourism on the rise in Latin America

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Domestic medical tourism has become a more effective choice to treat people living in remote areas

Dr Graccho Alvim, Director, Hospital Association of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, dons many hats. He’s a physician and doctor, who graduated in 1987 from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and worked for about 30 years as a director of private hospitals. In the last five years, he was instrumental in setting up an international healthcare consulting firm. He is also a representative of Global Health Accreditation (GHA), a leading medical travel accreditation for hospitals and clinics worldwide and has founded an organisation involved in medical tourism.

At Omnia Health Live Americas, Dr Alvim will put the spotlight on medical tourism in the Latin Americas region. In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, he said that the event is a great platform for healthcare practitioners to exchange ideas and learn from each other and will provide the perfect opportunity to connect with organisations involved in medical tourism. “We research medical tourism programmes from countries around the world such as Thailand, Costa Rica, UAE and Germany, among others, to identify the best solutions for Brazil. Due to COVID-19, we can’t meet in person, therefore, at Omnia Health Live Americas we are going to discuss how medical tourism has been impacted by the pandemic.”

He said that Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile have been seriously affected by COVID-19. In fact, Brazil saw more than 150,000 deaths from the disease.

“We had some challenges in the region such as the low number of tests carried out and underreporting of cases,” he elaborated. “All the private hospitals cancelled elective surgeries and only treated emergencies, leading to a large drop in revenue in hospitals. Treatment of patients with chronic diseases was also put on hold leading to a backlog of critical patients in need of care. However, Brazil has a strong public healthcare system and has been able to control the disease and received support for funding and infrastructural challenges.”

These factors have played an important role in increasing medical tourism in Brazil. For instance, people in remote areas of the country have been travelling to city centres to receive treatments. Moreover, Brazil has also been receiving a high volume of COVID-19 patients from South American countries such as Paraguay, Colombia and Peru for treatments in certain renowned hospitals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

He highlighted: “Domestic medical tourism has increased dramatically and become more effective and a less expensive choice to treat people living in remote areas without proper resource. We saw people renting planes and boats to come to get treated at the bigger centres in Brazil.”

Positive changes

Dr Alvim said that before the pandemic telemedicine was allowed only in radiology in Brazil. However, since March, there has been a steady rise in teleconsultations from patients looking to get advice from doctors, nurses, psychologists, and nutritionists. Also, healthcare companies have developed the latest proprietary systems, equipment’s and gadgets to attend to the patients and treat them efficiently.

“This has had a big impact on medical tourism. While these modifications are in place specifically during the pandemic, I believe positive changes will continue to occur to treat patients better remotely, especially in resource-constrained areas,” he added.

The doctor stressed that COVID-19 is a disease that won’t go away quickly. Therefore, it is important for hospitals to keep some areas COVID-19 free for emergency patients and to have better tests and analyse such cases separately. Also, it is essential to identify non-susceptible staff to treat these patients.

He also mentioned that it is essential to reduce contamination and establish and monitor better protocols in therapy to control the disease. It is also important to coordinate contact tracing with relevant to authorities and monitor cross infections inside the unit.

He concluded: “Last but not least, the world needs to come together to establish protocols to deal with the virus. Unfortunately, another such virus might be around the corner and we need to come together for the interest and well-being of everybody.

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Dr Alvim will be a panellist at the ‘Global strategies for medical tourism in the COVID world’ on Friday, Nov 6 at Omnia Health Live Americas

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