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The Escalating Dangers of Medical Tourism to Mexico Put Americans on High Alert 

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The Escalating Dangers of Medical Tourism to Mexico Put Americans on High Alert 

Edited by: Fern Sidman

Texas authorities are warning Americans, especially those planning spring break trips, to avoid Mexico after the recent uptick in violence that left two dead, the New York Post reported on Sunday.

In a statement, Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said, “Drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat to anyone who crosses into Mexico right now,” the Post reported.

The Post reported that Lt. Chris Olivarez of the DPS told Fox News on Saturday that the department was gearing up for spring breakers who might be seeking to cross the border.

Olivarez said, “Right now it is too dangerous with the increase in violence and kidnappings that are taking place in Mexico. I can’t stress enough to those that are thinking about traveling to Mexico, especially for spring breakers … to avoid those areas as much as possible,”  as was reported by the Post.

The State Department has also issued a level four travel advisory — its most severe — to avoid four Mexican states, according to the Post.

The New York Times reported that last week four Americans were kidnapped in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, after crossing the border from Texas. Two were later found dead. A sister of one of the victims said they had gone to Mexico so one of them could get an abdominoplasty, better known as a tummy tuck.

On March 3rd, the disappearance of the four South Carolina residents was reported. Reports indicate that they were kidnapped in the Mexican state of Matamoros in broad daylight. One of the people kidnapped was Latavia “Tay” McGee, 35, who wanted to go to Mexico for a substantially discounted tummy tuck procedure.

McGee and traveling companion, Eric James Williams, 38, were found injured as they were grabbed off the street and kidnapped. They were found east of Matamoros in a shack, the Post reported. The two other Americans traveling with them had been shot dead by the kidnappers. They were identified as Zindell Brown, in his mid-20s and 33-year old Shaeed Woodard. Also killed during the kidnapping was a 33-year old Mexican woman who got caught in the crossfire of bullets, the Post reported. Thus far, six people were apprehended in connection with the kidnapping and the ruthless murders, the report indicated.

The Post also reported that the latest frightening incident, two sisters from Texas and a friend who crossed the border into Mexico last month to sell clothes at a flea market have not been heard from in about two weeks, authorities said Friday. The Post reported that the FBI said it was aware sisters Maritza Trinidad Perez Rios, 47, Marina Perez Rios, 48 and their friend, Dora Alicia Cervantes Saenz, 53, have gone missing. The report said that the sisters are from Peñitas, a small border city in Texas near McAllen. The women were said to be traveling in a green mid-1990s Chevy Silverado to a flea market in the city of Montemorelos, about a three-hour drive from the border, according to the Post report.

Every year, millions of Americans visit Mexico and other countries to obtain health care, a practice often called medical tourism. The National Exterior Commerce Bank in Mexico estimated that the industry was worth $5 billion before it declined during the coronavirus pandemic, the NYT reported. For patients, the motivation is often financial.

Speaking to NPR, Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders said, “Pre-pandemic, some 1.2 million American citizens traveled to Mexico for elective medical treatment.” NPR reported that his firm publishes a guide to international medical travel.

Cosmetic surgeries are just one of the procedures that are far cheaper in Mexico , NPR reported. For years, people have been visiting from the U.S. to get elaborate dental work or cosmetic treatments done, or to pick up antibiotics and other medicines at favorable prices. The NPR reported stated that many people also travel to get orthopedic work done, replacing knees or hips for less than half the cost of such procedures in the U.S.

On Marcy 8th, the NYT reported that Felicia Marie Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at the University of Miami, said: “Some of it is a desperate search for access” to medical care.

Those traveling to Mexico and elsewhere for discounted surgeries and treatments have generally been Americans and Canadians in the last 20 years or so, the NYT reported. In addition to dental care that many uninsured people in the US find totally unaffordable, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that surgeries, fertility treatments, organ and tissue transplants and cancer treatment are the most common procedures for which people go abroad, the NYT reported.

CNN recently reported that not only do Americans travel to Mexico for reasons of medical tourism but they also travel to such destinations as India and Eastern Europe. The CDC has issued warnings about other risks such as quality of care, infection control and communication challenges with medical staff.

Speaking to CNN, Dr. Nolan Perez, a gastroenterologist in Brownsville, Texas, which is across the border from Matamoros, said, “It’s on the daily, without a doubt. There are people going daily to get this kind of stuff done. Dr. Perez added, “Whether it’s primary care provider visits or dental procedures or something more significant, like elective or weight loss surgery, there’s no doubt that people are doing that because of low cost and easier access,” as was reported by CNN.

Elizabeth Ziemba, president of Medical Tourism Training, which provides training and accreditation to international health travel organizations, told CNN that, “people travel because there may be a long waiting time, wait lists or other reasons why they can’t get treatment as quickly as they would like it. So they explore their options outside the United States to see what’s available.”

NPR reported that potential problems with medical tourism range from the dangers of flying in a pressurized plane cabin too soon after a surgery to the complications of getting follow-up care for a procedure done in another country.

The CDC has said that, “recent examples include surgical site infections caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria in patients who underwent cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic and Q fever in patients who received fetal sheep cell injections in Germany.”

The NYT reported that Valorie Crooks, a professor of geography at Simon Fraser University in Canada who has studied it for over a decade, told them that it’s hard to find solid data on medical tourism. She calls the industry a “triple U”: It’s “untracked, untraced and unregulated.” The NYT also reported that most of the Mexican hospitals Americans visit are private and do not report their data to the federal government.

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