Medical tourism is an economic activity that has grown significantly around the world, generating thousands of people living in developed countries to go to developing nations for medical treatment.
It is an activity that is being carried out in various parts of the world and Panama is no exception, since 2011 this type of tourism is practiced, however, it has not been developed by taking advantage of the hospital structure of the private sector and connectivity with other countries.
Health tourism is a global phenomenon that is taking off in Latin America due to the moderate prices and proximity of the countries. It is estimated that the volume of patients and companions has grown by 25% to 30% annually and economic income has increased by 40%.
The Minister of Commerce and Industry, Ramón Martínez said that we have seen that this type of tourism has worked very well, in addition to the fact that it is an industry that generates $400 million and is something we should bet on.
In that sense, the Medical Institute of Philadelphia is making a partnership with the Panama Clinic to initiate medical tourism.
"They are providing us with technology, training so that people who go to their medical center in Philadelphia and others who cannot go to the United States because of visa issues or other complications, they can offer an alternative in Panama," he said.
Martinez stressed that this type of tourism can generate investment, jobs and also increase the volume of tourists arriving in the country.
Annually, more than 15 million travelers pass through Panama, of which a little more than 2 million stay as tourists in the country.
For the Minister of Commerce, Panama has to take advantage of the connectivity that exists with 89 destinations in Latin America and the rest of the world.
The countries that stand out in Latin America are Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. In Central America, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador stand out.
But the impact of health tourism goes far beyond the health sector, reaching other industries such as hotels, restaurants, and tour operators, among others. It strengthens the economy of the entire country.
Armando Rodríguez, president of the Panamanian Hotel Association (Apatel), pointed out that without a doubt this type of tourism can help hotel occupancy, which has fallen by more than 10% in recent years.
"Panama enjoys excellent hospital infrastructure in the private sector for the implementation of this type of activity, in addition to the fact that prices are quite accessible compared to countries like the United States," he said.
Ernesto Orillac, president of the Panama Chamber of Tourism (Camtur), stated that this is a segment of tourism that has a lot of strength and that Panama must take advantage of its infrastructure and connectivity with Latin America.
He added that ophthalmology and surgery are some of the services offered at a low cost.
From 2015 to date, the entry of visitors to Panama has decreased by 3 percent annually, causing adverse results such as loss of competitiveness with other destinations.
During 2018, the tourism industry contributed more than $6 billion to the gross domestic product.
However, the entry of visitors fell by 1.5% in the same year when it registered a total of 2,480,190, compared to 2017 when it totaled 2,517,496.