Interview: Dr Fawzi Al Hammouri
What has been the impact of regional turmoil on Jordan’s health care sector?
DR FAWZI AL HAMMOURI: Jordan played a major role in helping hundreds of thousands of injured patients, saving lives from those Arab countries which were affected by the so-called “Arab Spring”. Private hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of incoming patients received in a short time period, without prior arrangements and without any financial guarantees. Therefore, the Jordanian private hospitals are now asking the Libyan government for payments of over $300m.
Previously, Jordan was always known as an open, easily accessible country. Many nationalities were not required to get a visa in advance or on arrival at the airport. But recently there has been a large drop in the number of foreign patients due to the government’s decision to regulate the entry of some nationalities, such as Libyan, Yemeni, Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese nationals. The number of Libyan and Yemeni visitors to the kingdom for medical tourism has dropped by almost 70% since December 2015.
To what extent are the different stakeholders cooperating in strengthening medical tourism?
AL HAMMOURI: More than 60% of medical tourism revenues are spent outside the health organisations. There are many non-health sectors benefitting from this industry, such as hotels, airlines, shopping centres and tourist sites, among others. Unfortunately, in spite of that, there is minimal cooperation in strengthening medical tourism in Jordan. The burden of marketing Jordan as a medical tourism destination lies on the shoulders of private hospitals and the PHA.
What measures are in place to prevent institutions overcharging international patients?
AL HAMMOURI: Jordan is one of the few countries in the world where all the prices of medical services are set and published by the government, and all health care providers should abide by these prices. If there is any complaint for overcharging or over-treating, it is investigated by a special committee in the Ministry of Health (MoH), whose verdict is mandatory for all health care providers. There is close cooperation between the MoH, the PHA and the doctors’ syndicate to prevent unfair practices by any health care provider.
What competitive advantage does Jordan have in the regional medical tourism market?
AL HAMMOURI: Jordan is known for providing high-quality care at very competitive prices. It is also distinguished by its human resources, as more than 97% of the health care providers are Jordanians, and they are well trained, both locally and internationally. Jordan is also uniquely located in the middle of the Arab world. It has the Dead Sea – the largest natural spa in the world and a wellness destination, offering a variety of therapeutic effects. In addition, there is no language barrier and Jordan shares similar cultures and traditions with almost all Arab patients, so they usually feel at home. In spite of the competition, Jordan is still the preferred destination for Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.
How might the visa process and regulations be eased to assist the medical tourism segment?
AL HAMMOURI: It can be eased by making a special visa track for medical travellers and their families, with a short processing time. We have almost reachedan understanding with the government regarding this matter, and we suggested the adoption of an e-visa for this purpose. The Ministry of Interior promised to accept medical reports from Jordanian private hospitals, using them to issue visas for patients and their companions. I believe that visa facilitation is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed if the medical tourism sector is to thrive in the face of all the other difficulties that the sector is currently struggling against.
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