Photo by Quang Tri NGUYEN on Unsplash

The business has been hit by the pandemic and is not expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels until three years from now, say experts. 

Before the pandemic, several foreigners traveled to Ukraine to get medical help. The low prices on everything from dental work to surgeries have made Ukraine a hot spot for people coming from Western countries, reports Interfax Ukraine. The industry has, however, been declining recently due to the pandemic, but is now recovering. 

“The coronavirus will affect the flow of inbound and outbound medical tourism. At the same time, we already have experience of more than a year and a half of existence of this threat in the world. So we have this experience, we know how to solve problems with crossing the border and how to help patients from many countries get here. I believe that the flow (of such tourists from abroad ) will exist and increase,” said the President of the Ukrainian Association of Medical Tourism Violetta Yanyshevska to Interfax Ukraine. 

“Our market, unfortunately, next year will not recover to the indicators of 2019. I think, like many international experts, that the market will recover in three years,” said Yanyshevskaya.

Vadim Zukin is the operating director of the LELEKA maternity hospital. He told the media that Ukraine has even more potential for growth if it changes its image. 

“Here I must say that the image of our country is not one for which patients are ready to overpay, and very often, when foreigners choose our medical hospital, they doubt because of the image of the country,” Zukin said and expressed hope that the number of medical tourists will spike again in 2022 as the pandemic hopefully gets under control. 

Previously, Yanyshevska estimated that 65,000 foreigners visited Ukraine for medical reasons in 2019 and spent around $2.8 thousand per person, bringing $182 million to the Ukrainian economy. Several companies are organising tours for medical tourists in Ukraine. 

One of them is the company International Student Services which says that people mostly visit for IVF, Dentistry, Cosmetic Surgery, Frozen Embryo Transfer, and Embryo donation. Most procedures are between 50 to 65 percent cheaper than in the US. 

Reform led the way

Judy Twigg is a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University and a leading expert on healthcare systems in the former Soviet Union. She recently wrote about the topic of medical tourism in Ukraine for the Atlantic Council

She points out that Ukraine began a reform on its medical sector back in 2017, which largely has proven successful and that is one of the reasons for the many medical tourists. 

“An unreformed inheritance from the Soviet era left the Ukrainian healthcare sector under-financed and held hostage to bureaucratic inertia and special interests. A network of shell companies, tightly connected to parliamentarians and government officials who profited from artificial price markups, controlled purchasing of drugs and medical equipment. The distribution of budget money to publicly-funded clinics and hospitals was governed more by the whims—and wallets—of politically powerful head doctors than by the needs of patients… Ukrainians paid huge sums out-of-pocket for often atrocious medical care,” she said. 

“The country’s 2014 revolution opened the same windows for change in healthcare as in other sectors. For a few years, the scope and pace of health reform were astonishing,” she adds, “For the first time, private facilities are allowed to compete with state clinics for public funding, further expanding patient options… More than 70 percent of Ukrainians who have participated say they are happy with the quality of the care they now receive, and most doctors are pleased with salaries that have increased by a factor of two or three.”

She, however, sees that the so-far successful reform has met obstacles in recent years. It threatens further development of the health sector in Ukraine, she says.