Having reformed its once-restrictive visa regime at the end of 2016, the small eastern European country of Belarus is attempting to leverage its newly opened doors as well as its low costs to attract medical tourists. It is among the latest locations looking to capture a fraction of the growing world market for health tourism.
Though not particularly well known for its health sector in global (or even regional) terms, Belarus is at number 72 on the World Health Organization’s global ranking of countries’ health systems. While far below most of Western Europe, it is higher than all three nearby Baltic states and substantially higher than neighbouring Russia (at 130 on the list).
Belarus also has one of the largest cancer centres among former Soviet states, the NN Aleksandrov National Cancer Centre outside Minsk. In 2016, a reported 50,000 international patients sought treatment in the country.
Dental procedures are among the most popular among visitors. According to Med Travel Belarus, a Belarusian tour operator that specialises in medical tourism, the cost of one dental implant installation would be between €1500 and €2000 in Western Europe and €1000 in the Baltic states, while in Belarus it would be about €550. Other popular medical services for health tourists in Belarus are plastic surgery, laser eye surgery, genetic testing and general check-ups.
Patients Beyond Borders, a world guide to medical tourism, defines a medical traveller as anyone who travels across international borders for the purpose of receiving medical care, excluding in-country expatriates, tourists in need of emergency medical care, companions accompanying medical travellers, or multiple patient episodes that occur over the course of one medical visit. The publication estimates the global health tourism market size at between $45.5bn and $72bn, based on about 14 million crossborder patients worldwide spending an average of $3800-$6,000 per visit, including medically related costs, crossborder and local transport, inpatient stay and accommodations. It is estimated that some 1.4 million Americans will travel outside the US for medical care in 2017, due to the country’s inefficient and costly health system.
These figures are expected to swell further. “The world population is ageing and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality healthcare resources. In addition, out-of-pocket medical costs of critical and elective procedures continue to rise, while nations offering universal care are faced with ever-increasing resource burdens,” says Patients Beyond Borders.
“These drivers are forcing patients to pursue cross-border healthcare options either to save money or to avoid long waits for treatment. We estimate the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15%-25%, with inbound patient flows highest in Mexico, south-east and south Asia.”