Tropical Chinese Island Receives US$3B in Investments for Medical Tourism Growth

“China’s Hawaii” is quickly growing into a hotspot for medical tourism and treatments unavailable on the mainland.

The Chinese island of Hainan, a tropical travel destination in the South China Sea that often draws comparisons to the U.S. islands of Hawaii, is becoming an important site for medical tourism and pioneering medical treatment in China. Hainan officials have stated a goal of attracting at least one million medical tourists a year to the island by 2025. To achieve this, local and foreign businesses have committed to spending US$3.3 billion (23 billion yuan) on 27 projects including hospitals and plastic surgery clinics. Investors include Ciming Health Checkup Management Group and the U.S. Brigham and Women’s Hospital-affiliated Evergrande Health Industry Group, which plans to spend US$724 million on a cancer center in Hainan. The goal is to attract wealthy Chinese patients who might otherwise travel abroad for treatment, as half a million Chinese patients left the country for medical services in 2016. Regulatory bottlenecks, largely due to staffing shortages in the China Food and Drug Administration and a complex review process, mean that foreign medicines often suffer a substantial lag in approval time compared to domestic medications. The practical result: foreign medical breakthroughs often take awhile to become available to Chinese patients. This is not the case in Hainan, as special regulations allow the island to import and prescribe small amounts of medication that have not yet been given regulatory approval for use on the mainland. For example, the Merck cancer drug Keytruda, which cannot yet be prescribed in mainland China, was given to six patients receiving treatment at Chengmei International Health Center in October 2016. —AG

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