AMMAN - Medical tourism, one of the main sectors of the national economy, has not been negatively affected by the global economic crisis, sector leaders said on Saturday.
According to Private Hospitals Association (PHA) President Fawzi Hammouri, Jordan was ranked number one in the Arab world and among the top 10 in the world as a medical tourism destination by the World Bank’s medical tourism experts.
"In order to maintain this ranking, we have to keep the current markets in the Arab world and find new ones in Africa, Europe and the US," Hammouri explained.
New markets have already been opened in Chad, Nigeria, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, while plans are in place to open markets in Germany, the UK and the US, he said.
The high quality and competitive cost of healthcare in Jordan have made the country an attractive destination for foreigners seeking advanced treatments that are unavailable or unaffordable in their home countries, according to industry reports.
"The medical tourism sector annually generates over $1 billion in revenues and the number of foreign patients seeking treatment in the Kingdom stands at over 200,000 per year," Hammouri said in a statement sent to The Jordan Times last month.
However, this requires the country to obtain accreditation from the Joint Commission International (JCI), and to encourage hospitals to obtain the national accreditation, according to Hammouri.
JCI is the international arm of the organisation that reviews and accredits American hospitals. Their checklist includes over 350 standards, covering everything from surgical hygiene and anaesthesia procedures to the systems in place to certify medical staff and nurses. JCI sends a team to review hospitals every three years.
"We also invited the US Medical Tourism Association and medical insurance companies from the US to visit Jordan next July and have a firsthand look at the capabilities of the hospitals in Jordan," Hammouri explained, adding that the initiative was adopted due to the current financial crisis in the US that has prompted Americans to seek high-quality, low-cost medical treatment abroad.
In preparation for this step, the association will provide the Americans and Europeans who come to the country for medical services with unprecedented packages.
"We will provide them with packages that are 25 per cent below market prices. This includes the plane ticket, accommodation and a visit to Petra to encourage tourism as well."
Meanwhile, the demand for licensing new private hospitals is still high, according to Health Ministry licensing director, Azmi Hadidi.
"We are currently looking into applications to build three hospitals, two in Amman and one in Maan," Hadidi told The Jordan Times, adding that the latter is to be the first private hospital in the southern governorate.
"One of these hospitals in Amman is going to be a huge complex with different specialisations, while the other will specialise in cosmetic and plastic surgeries," Hadidi explained.
Citing the high demand for treatment in Jordan, Prime Minister Nader Dahabi on Thursday told business columnists and journalists that such a lucrative industry should encourage the private sector to build new hospitals in the Kingdom.
In order to avoid overcrowding, some health institutions are expanding their already existing facilities.
"Some hospitals have increased the number of beds, while others have expanded or are still working on the expansion of existing facilities," Hammouri noted.
Currently there are 61 private health institutions in the Kingdom.
In a related development, Dahabi on Saturday stressed the importance of promoting Jordan at the global level as an advanced medical hub, the Jordan News Agency, Petra reported.
In a meeting with the Health Care Accreditation Council (HCAH), attended by Minister of Health Nayef Fayez, the premier called for enhanced efforts to attract more patients, especially from Europe and the US, based on the good reputation of the country in this field.
Dahabi noted that the government is working on upgrading health services provided by the Health Ministry’s hospitals and encouraging them to implement the international accreditation criteria.
For their part, members of HCAH requested that the government exempt the sector from sales tax to assist in its development, Hammouri told The Jordan Times.