Booming reproductive tourism in Asia threatens local medical services

Local health services in low income countries and women of reproductive age are the little-publicised victims of booming demand for cheap assisted reproduction from people in rich countries, a review in the journal Reproductive Health says. Andrea Whittaker, of the University of Queensland, says she is especially concerned about the lack of regulatory systems to prevent and lower exploitation of medical resources and women for surrogacy in poorer countries.

Asia, India and Thailand are major hubs for assisted reproduction treatments. Thailand has 30 IVF clinics and in 2004 the Thai government made a conscious move to increase travel to Thailand by promoting the country’s state-of-the-art hospitals, well-trained medical staff and substantial savings compared with developed countries. Dr Whittaker is concerned about the increase in women in low income countries being exploited for surrogacy. She points to a Thai company named Baby 101. The Associated Press reported in February that police discovered 14 Vietnamese women even of whom were pregnant) and whose passports had been confiscated being held in two houses in Bangkok. People were using Baby 101 to procure surrogacy via email or via agents.

Dr Whittaker calls for greater regulation across national borders. In her review she states that “although mobility in pursuit of healthcare is celebrated by some as the ultimate neoliberal consumer ‘choice’ and ‘freedom,’ not all travel is equal and more work is needed to probe the economies, politics, practices, relations, and assumptions that underpin this trade.” She continues, “This is only one example of the ways in which reproductive health services are marginalised, privatised, commercialised, and restricted. It is yet another example of how healthcare is used to discriminate against women, in this case those who cannot conceive children without medical assistance.” ~ BMJ, Aug 25

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