Chinese medical tourists are ‘dying to survive’

Chinese medical tourists are ‘dying to survive’

Authors: Neil Lunt, University of York and Ka Wo Fung, Hong Kong Baptist University

Dying to Survive is proving to be a 2018 hit at the box office in China. The story involves a shopkeeper smuggling a cheap generic drug into China for profit. The film — based on the true story of a Chinese leukaemia patient — is both funny and heavy on social commentary. It provides insight into the domestic health market in China, where patients are often priced out of treatments or find that treatments are unavailable.

Delays in accessing life-changing or life-saving drugs are leading many Chinese patients to make risky purchases from the internet or from middle-men. The possibility of encountering counterfeit or unsafe products encourages patients who are unwilling to take such risks (and who have the necessary disposable income) to find alternative ways to get the care they need, including travelling overseas for drug therapies and treatments.

Asia is at the centre of a growing medical tourism industry. People from within Asia and beyond are being attracted to ‘hubs’ of medical excellence in Malaysia, Thailand, India and South Korea. This burgeoning trend is a reversal of historical flows of medical tourists from low- to high-income countries.

There is growing attention to intra-regional medical travel within Asia for reasons of cost, quality and availability. A major flow took place from mainland China to Hong Kong, particularly in the form of so-called ‘birth tourism’. This flow — in which mainland Chinese women give birth in Hong Kong so that their children have the right of abode there — was encouraged by Hong Kong’s stronger legal framework and higher quality services. Hong Kong has denied obstetric services to Mainland Chinese pregnant women since 2012. Many Chinese patients also travel to Hong …continue reading