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Soc Sci Med. 2015 Jan;124:313-20. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.06.025. Epub 2014 Jun 14.

South-South medical tourism and the quest for health in Southern Africa.

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Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa. Electronic address:
Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


Intra-regional South-South medical tourism is a vastly understudied subject despite its significance in many parts of the Global South. This paper takes issue with the conventional notion of South Africa purely as a high-end "surgeon and safari" destination for medical tourists from the Global North. It argues that South-South movement to South Africa for medical treatment is far more significant, numerically and financially, than North-South movement. The general lack of access to medical diagnosis and treatment in SADC countries has led to a growing temporary movement of people across borders to seek help at South African institutions in border towns and in the major cities. These movements are both formal (institutional) and informal (individual) in nature. In some cases, patients go to South Africa for procedures that are not offered in their own countries. In others, patients are referred by doctors and hospitals to South African facilities. But the majority of the movement is motivated by lack of access to basic healthcare at home. The high demand and large informal flow of patients from countries neighbouring South Africa has prompted the South African government to try and formalise arrangements for medical travel to its public hospitals and clinics through inter-country agreements in order to recover the cost of treating non-residents. The danger, for 'disenfranchised' medical tourists who fall outside these agreements, is that medical xenophobia in South Africa may lead to increasing exclusion and denial of treatment. Medical tourism in this region and South-South medical tourism in general are areas that require much additional research.


Medical tourism; Migration; South Africa; South–South; Transnational healthcare

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