South East Asia is a potpourri of cultures. It is home to diverse communities, that differ in many aspects, from language to religion, forming a congregation of 10 nations. They are politically connected through the ASEAN economic group. In reality however, there is patchy collaboration between the countries especially in healthcare delivery.
Each country is governed and functions individually. Cross border patient care is often difficult or impossible, compounded by the vast gap in healthcare infrastructure between certain countries. Varying standards of training and accreditation processes also brew mistrust in the quality of care that can be given.
Singapore, for example, prides itself as being 1st world in terms of healthcare infrastructure, while countries like Cambodia or Laos struggle to afford basic healthcare to its citizens. Healthcare standards in the large achipelago of Indonesia is also inconsistent across the different islands. The ASEAN region has about 635 million inhabitants, which is about 8.5% of the world’s population. The lack of cohesiveness in this region has resulted in decaying standards of healthcare as patients travel between these countries or beyond in search of the ultimate healthcare.
The birth of health tourism is driven in large part by richer patients in poorer countries within ASEAN. The lack of any official partnerships between many healthcare institutions between these countries within ASEAN compromises the care of health tourists as care becomes fragmented by distance. The main incentive for care delivery to health tourists is sadly mainly economics. Unfortunately holistic healthcare encompasses care beyond the walls of the medical facility.
There is not much data on the outcomes of many health tourists within ASEAN. Has the sacrifice of travelling afar paid off in search of better healthcare? Is the current momentum of patients across borders benefitting them?
It’s a complex scenario. ASEAN co-operation should extend beyond trade. It has to focus on the well-being of the citizens of ASEAN and this includes their healthcare. Healthcare should never become another trade commodity as patients turn into pawns. There has to be a more concerted effort in ensuring that healthcare delivery is improved across borders.
Selling a country as having world class healthcare infrastructure, without a plan to ensure care continues in their home countries, is a classical example of misrepresentation and merely a marketing tactic to attract healthcare dollars into the country and nothing else.