Heads of state as medical tourists – what are the hot spots of medical tourism?

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela Medical Tourist No. 1We have become used to reading about government leaders heading abroad for major medical treatment. A president or prime minister is often a country’s Medical Tourist No. 1, heading off to top medical tourism centers in leading medical destinations.

Cost of medical treatment is seldom the main concern for these top-tier users of medical tourism. Quality of treatment and security are of greater importance. Occasionally, politics has to override all other concerns.

Here’s a list of current and former heads of state and where they recently traveled as medical tourists.

  • Venezuela’s President and itinerant medical tourist Hugo Chavez is racking up frequent flyer miles as he seeks cancer treatment. Last year he flew to Cuba for surgery and chemotherapy. Last week he reportedly returned to Cuba for further treatment. But the latest reports have him scheduling an emergency trip to Brazil after experiencing intestinal burns from radiation treatment in Cuba. Brazil initially had offered to pay for Chavez’ treatment, presumably to take advantage of the opportunity to promote Brazil as a top medical destination.
  • Meanwhile, former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is cooling her heels in a military hospital because the country’s current leader Benigno Aquino III refuses her request for medical travel to Spain for an apparently life-threatening bone condition. Last November, she was barred from boarding her flight out of the country because political opponents felt she was using medical tourism as an excuse to flee potential corruption charges. When she couldn’t get treatment abroad, she stayed in St. Luke’s Hospital in Manila before her arrest.
  • Medical tourist Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Michael Somare had heart surgery in Singapore in 2011. His US$2 million bill included payments to personal aides, government officials and family members who “provided help in hospital”. Singaporean doctors and nurses were found lacking?
  • President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka chose Singapore as his second choice when security concerns prevented him from his preferred medical destination, the U.S.
  • Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari went recently to Dubai for reported treatment for a transient ischemic attack. Wonder what is Dubai’s medical tourism hotspot?
  • Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after much controversy, finally got to a New York hospital where he was apparently treated for burns. It was never a concern of the U.S. government, readily granting him permission for medical travel.
  • The Saudi royal family seems to prefer the U.S. as a medical destination. Saudi Crown Prince Nayef was at the Cleveland Clinic for tests. King Abdullah has visited regularly, most recently for treatment of a herniated back disc and related problems.
  • Past heads of state who have been medical tourists include Iraqi President Jalal Talabani who traveled to Jordan for medical treatment, and Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who once checked into a top French military hospital.

Do you know of other leaders not on this list who have traveled abroad for medical treatment?

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