Medical Tourism: A Life-Saving Mission

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Medical tourism is more than the search for innovative or affordable healthcare. It is also a plan to deliver care, to empower people by teaching them how to provide life-saving care for their fellow human beings, at home and abroad. It is a plan by public and private organizations. It is a plan with an emphasis on teaching.

 

It is teaching by doctors, nurses, and staffs, in which people learn how to perform Basic Life Support (BLS). It is treatment through teaching in which people learn how to administer CPR. It is a global effort to save millions of lives by touring the world. It is an online effort too, where millions of people use the World Wide Web to take CPR courses. It is a chance for millions to save tens of millions of lives.

 

It is one of several examples of what we can do to care for the least among us. It exemplifies how expansive the concept of medical tourism is when we include the work of, say, the Carter Center or the Disque Foundation.

 

The former is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization founded by Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. It oversees disease eradication efforts in over 80 countries, leading the drive to eradicate Guinea worm disease, as well as controlling and treating onchocerciasis, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria through awareness campaigns.

 

The latter provides advanced healthcare education to under-served populations of the U.S. and the world. Its 10-day trip to Nairobi, Kenya, is a model of what medical tourism is. Its success is a living tribute to the words of Nelson Mandela, that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

 

Think about that statement as it relates to medical tourism, which is to say think about how medical tourism can have a more positive connotation. Think about how the term can unite people, rather than dividing them, given the perception that medical tourism is a luxury—a privilege of, by, and for the rich—instead of a chance for volunteers to tour the places most in need of help. Think about how Medical Tourism can be the source of record about what medical tourism is: a series of missions by dignitaries and doctors—by presidents and physicians—to change the world.

 

If medical tourism emphasizes the value of saving lives and teaching life-saving techniques, we can increase the number of healthcare volunteers worldwide. As a scientist, I can quantify that claim. I can prove what I claim, based on my work promoting healthcare. For example: I know that what serves the interest of the public—namely, saving lives—depends on how interesting that subject is to the public.

 

In other words, educators need to engage the public. It is not enough to tell people that medical tourism is important. It is not enough to cite statistics or to have a citation for every assertion.

 

What matters is what people can see. What matters is what people can do, thanks to what we teach them to perform. What matters, in the end, is what we show the world: that medical tourism is a catchall for many campaigns by many organizations.

 

Each campaign is a means to an end, to furthering the works of Carter and the words of Mandela, to saving a million lives and teaching life-saving techniques to millions more. Each campaign is an entry in the history of medical tourism. Each campaign is a way to write history by making it. Each campaign is historic, since it is a new milestone in a volume about compassion and care.

Each campaign is also a chance to transcend borders and bring people together. To be a tourist (of sorts) who is not a bystander to events, but a participant to a specific course of events: to set a goal—to establish a time and date—when a disaster will be erased, a disease eradicated, a difficulty eliminated. To be a medical tourist is do all of these things, or to at least try to strengthen a town or city.

To tour under-served communities is to see the challenges people face. To be a tourist is not, however, an invitation to act like a spectator. On the contrary, the duty of a medical tourist is to act. That person has a responsibility to work and deliver relief.

By relieving a community of a particular burden, be it through medicine or medical training, that person can do more in a day or a week than most people do in a lifetime. To be a medical tourist is to be a person who saves lives.

 

That person is a friend, neighbor, colleague, or coworker. That person is a man or woman of conscience. That person is conscientious, too, about doing his or her best for the cause of medicine and the campaign to save lives.