“Our market has always been what I call the ‘working poor’ and they just keep getting poorer,” said Josef Woodman, the chief executive of Patients Without Borders. “The pandemic has gutted low-income and middle-class people around the world and for many of them the reality is that they have to travel to access affordable health care.”
In April, following the initial global lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, medical travel bookings were down by more than 89 percent in the most popular destinations, including Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and South Korea, according to Medical Departures, a Bangkok-based medical travel agency. Since August, the numbers have slowly been rebounding, but bookings in Mexico, which has seen an uptick in American travelers in recent months, are still down by 32 percent compared to the same period of August to December in 2019.
“Covid-19 has devastated the whole medical tourism ecosystem because of all the uncertainty over travel restrictions and quarantine measures that keep changing across the world,” said Paul McTaggart, the founder of the agency.
“Despite this, we are still seeing a growing number of people traveling and booking trips to address their urgent health needs, especially between the U.S. and Mexico border where patients can travel safely by car,” Mr. McTaggart said. The Center for Medical Tourism Research found that Google searches in the United States for the terms “Mexico medical tourism” went up by 64 percent since July, compared to pre-pandemic levels before travel restrictions were imposed in March.
“Google searches are almost directly correlated with consumer behavior when it comes to travel across borders,” Mr. Vequist said.
Before the winter resurgence of the coronavirus, Ms. Jackson had started to plan and save for a trip to Mexicali, a border city in northern Mexico, where she can get a hysterectomy for $4,000, one-fifth the cost of the procedure offered in New Jersey. Her best friend had offered to drive her there and pay for the gas and accommodations.