Centre for Health, Technologies and Social Practice

Child medical travel in Argentina

The blog entry below is a continuation of a conversation on body parts provision and medical travel started at the “Boundaries, Bodies, Borders: The Global Movement of Body Parts” event, held at the University of Leeds on 5th May 2017 and financed by the British Sociological Association. We invited the presenters to share their research here in the hope that they will spark the interest of a larger audience and possibly lead to novel collaborations.


Child medical travel in Argentina

 by Cecilia Vindrola-Padros (Department of Applied Health Research, University College London)

The relationship between mobility and health, particularly travel to obtain medical services, has been explored through concepts such as medical tourism, medical travel, cross border care, and return migration. Most of this work, however, has centred on the experiences of adult travellers, neglecting the unique travel situations of children and their families (Vindrola-Padros and Johnson, 2015).

In many areas of the world, children and young people face barriers accessing medical services produced by the lack of nearby medical facilities, inability to afford travel costs, inability to travel from their place of residence to medical facilities, and lack of information about health and where to seek medical treatment (Hampshire et al., 2011). Children also travel to obtain novel or “experimental” treatments or return to their place of origin to seek care that responds to their cultural preferences (Culley et al., 2013).

Child medical travellers often travel with their parents or older siblings, and in some cases, face life-threatening health conditions, which demand special forms of care from these accompanying family members. Medical professionals providing care to child medical travellers in destination countries have highlighted that language barriers can complicate processes of informed consent, the administration of treatment, and the child’s participation in clinical trials (Massimo, Wiley, & Caprino, 2008). They have also pointed to the costs incurred by the host country and issues related to follow-up (Culley et al., 2013). Travelling children and accompanying parents encounter emotional difficulties of leaving the place of origin (and many times other children) behind to encounter a different health care system, and possibly a new language, without social support networks such as close family and friends (Crom, 1995; Margolis, Ludi, & Wiener, 2013).

My research explores the interconnection between experiences of childhood, processes of caring and care work, and travel endured to obtain medical services. I have carried out ethnographic research in Buenos Aires, Argentina to capture the experiences of children and parents who travel from different areas of the country to the capital in order to access paediatric oncology treatment. Argentina maintains a centralised model of healthcare delivery, where the main hospitals equipped to treat children with cancer are found in Buenos Aires. This means that almost half of all children diagnosed with cancer need to travel at least once during their treatment (Vindrola-Padros and Brage 2017).

The need to travel for treatment has negative consequences on the travelling children, their accompanying parents, and the family members who stay in the place of origin. The need to travel creates financial difficulties for families as they struggle to cover travel costs and deal with the loss of employment of the accompanying parent (Vindrola-Padros and Whiteford 2012). Siblings and the other parent often remain in the place of origin, leading to family separation for several months. Travel and relocation to Buenos Aires also contributes to the interruption of children’s education as hospital school systems are not properly developed and they do not have the option of undergoing long-distance education programmes (Vindrola-Padros 2012).

Through a series of new research collaborations, we are seeking to expand our understanding of child medical travel processes in Argentina by exploring the experiences of healthcare professionals who care for travelling patients, mapping families’ journeys from different parts of the country, and documenting the impact of medical travel on families’ everyday life. We hope to develop research capable of informing changes in the delivery of specialised care and the development of support programs for traveling families.

If you would like to know more about our research, please contact Dr Cecilia Vindrola at c.vindrola(at)ucl.ac.uk



Crom, D. (1995). The experience of South American mothers who have a child being treated for malignancy in the United States. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 12(3), 104–112.

Culley, L., Hudson, N., Baldwin, K., & Lakhanpaul, M. (2013). Children travelling for treatment: What we don’t know. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 98, 442–444.

Hampshire, K. R., Porter, G., Asiedu Owusu, S., Tanle, A., & Abane, A. (2011). Out of the reach of children? Young people’s health-seeking practices and agency in Africa’s newly-emerging therapeutic landscapes. Social Science and Medicine, 73, 702–710.

Margolis, R., Ludi, E., & Wiener, L. (2013). International adaptation: Psychosocial and parenting experiences of caregivers who travel to the United States to obtain acute medical care for their seriously ill child. Social Work in Health Care, 52, 669–683.

Massimo, L. M., Wiley, T. J., & Caprino, D. (2008). Health emigration: A challenge in paediatric oncology. Journal of Child Health Care, 12(2), 106–115.

Vindrola-Padros, C., & Whiteford, L.M. (2012). The search for medical technologies abroad: The case of medical travel and pediatric oncology treatment in Argentina. Technology and Innovation, 14(1):25-38.

Vindrola Padros, C. (2012). The everyday lives of children with cancer in Argentina: Going beyond the disease and treatment. Children and Society, 26(6):430-442.

Vindrola-Padros, C., & Johnson, G.A. Children seeking health care: International perspectives on children’s use of mobility to obtain health services. In A. White, C. Ni Laoire, and T. Skelton (eds.), Movement, Mobilities and Journeys, Geographies of Children and Young People Series Vol. 6, Springer; 2015.

Vindrola-Padros, C., & Brage, E. Child medical travel in Argentina: Narratives of family separation and moving away from home. In C. Ergler, R. Kearns, and K. Witten (eds.), pp. 128-144, Children’s Health and Wellbeing in Urban Environments, Routledge; 2017.

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