Medical Tourism in Guatemala: Qualitatively Exploring How Existing Health System Inequities Facilitate Sector Development

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Guatemala, Health inequities, Health systems, Medical tourism, Qualitative methods, Regulation

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Anthropology


This article explores how existing health inequities in the Guatemalan health system facilitate the emergence of its medical tourism industry. We report on our thematic analysis of 50 key informant interviews conducted with 4 groups of stakeholders in the local medical tourism sector. Participants frequently discussed the interplay between the country’s longstanding health inequities and the promotion of medical tourism, characterized by 4 thematic viewpoints: the private health sector is already flourishing; the highly fragmented health system already faces multiple challenges; the underfunded public health sector has a weak regulatory capacity; and the commodification of health care has already advanced. Medical tourism and health inequities shape each other in low- and middle-income countries. In addition to the potential for medical tourism to exacerbate health inequities, previously existing health inequities create opportunities for the industry’s growth. Although regulation of the medical tourism industry is necessary, it needs to be implemented both at the domestic and supranational levels for it to be effective in preventing greater health inequities, and it needs to address the political and economic drivers that make health systems generate health disparities.

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