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Jordan’s advanced health services A hub for medical tourism

Should Arab and foreign patients coming to Jordan for medical treatment be regarded as tourists? Such a question arises when a Jordanian doctor announces in a newspaper headline that Jordan is a hub for medical tourism.

The Star met with Dr Fawzi Hammouri, chief executive officer and general manager of the Specialty Hospital and chairman of the Private Hospitals Association, who spoke more of the term and reasons behind coining it.

“People started learning about Jordan’s medical development since 1972, when, the first open-heart surgery was conducted at the Al-Hussein Medical City; in 1975 the first kidney transplant took place and in 1985 the first heart transplant was performed. This became more evident during the 1980s and 1990s as many private hospitals were built,” Hammouri commenced, “We also are self-efficient when it comes to competent doctors and nursing cadres—over 17,000 doctors—which is in turn a high turn up for a population of five and half million.”

Well-equipped private sector hospitals, which now total 61 hospitals from among 101 hospitals, outnumbering public sector hospitals, is also an indicator of the sector’s development. Stability and security in light of the current situation in the Middle East are also among the reasons that make Jordan a hub for people seeking treatment according to Hammouri.

“Easy procedures, including same language and similar traditions, are also among the reasons that encourage Arab patients, especially those from neighboring countries, to seek medical help in Jordan.’

Hammouri expressed his hope of the sector’s development in the upcoming years adding that the private health sector’s revenues total over JD1 billion annually.
“Over the years Jordan has become a medical hub for patients arriving from neighboring countries with numbers reaching up to 130,000 patients two years ago,” stated Dr Hammouri, “these numbers are based on a study conducted in 2005. I have done my research and found out that patients from 46 countries come to Jordan. We also have foreign patients, who work in countries like Iraq and Palestine and come here for treatment.”

Still Hammouri believes that the private sector in Jordan faces many hurdles like lack of a strategic plan to promote Jordan as a center for medical tourism. “Jordan should be promoted as a destination for medical tourism. There should be a national campaign promoted by the government and not the private sector alone. Other entities like the Foreign ministry, embassies and airline companies can help; the latter should perhaps consider issuing airline travel tickets that can be called Patient Tickets which include discounts for patients and facilitate their travel procedures,” Hammouri suggested.

“One cannot deny the performance of public sector hospitals like Al-Hussein Medical City, Jordan University Hospital and of course King Hussein Cancer Center that has achieved brilliant accomplishments in the treatment of cancer,” Hammouri added, commenting on public hospitals.
One of the main plans, Hammouri added, is to apply a hospital accreditation program that appraises private sector hospitals, which will open a medical passage between Jordanian and foreign hospitals. “People, who seek Jordan for medical treatment come here because of the good medical services,” he explained, “we so far have created 900 criteria for health services and the hospital that is awarded this accreditation by a committee—to be announced in the upcoming 7-8 months—will have to apply the required standards as part of the accreditation,” Hammouri declared.

These standards shall include the minimum of services that are conducted in the operating room, Hammouri continued.

The sizable profits netted by the private health sector constitute one of the main reasons behind Hammouri’s insistence that the private health sector should also be part of Jordan’s overall tourism initiative.

“When patients arrive in Jordan they are usually accompanied by close family members. Those individuals don’t spend their time here at the hospital; they rent out hotel rooms, dine out and sometimes shop in Jordan,” explained Hamouri, “this generates money to the tourism sector.” Anyone reading the Arabic headline Therapeutic Tourism in newspapers or hearing and seeing it on the radio and television would instantly formulate an image of the Dead Sea shores and Ma’in Hot Springs.

“Actually we discussed the name and came up with different options. I believe dubbing it medical tourism would help resolve the issue,” Hammouri said acknowledging that Jordan Tourism Board wasn’t exactly in favor of either the strategy or the name.

“Still we are maintaining communication lines open. We are also in contact with an airline company so that our medical leaflets will be on board their flights in and out of Jordan in the future,” Hammouri added.

Advertising public and private hospital via radio, newspapers, television and satellite channels is not a new trend: A neighboring Arab country used to place ads of one of its hospitals on a popular Arab channel.

Hammouri is proud that Jordan is the best health service provider in the region. “In addition to that we have affordable treatment fees compared to those in many countries. Do you believe that the fees of one African country is higher than ours,” he added, “you won’t believe me if I say that our medical treatment rates are cheaper than the ones offered in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the Emirates.”

An open-heart surgery in Jordan costs JD11,000; kidney transplant JD10,000 and liver transplant JD50,000, which would cost nearly JD200,000 in other countries, according to Hammouri.
Regarding future strategies that aim to develop the private sector Hammouri said that the Association is planning to boost investments by establishing specialized health centers. “We are planning to do so in the future but our purpose is not to duplicate available services and centers,” he concluded.

Marseille,06 27 2007
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