Jordan: Managing medical tourism

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As the Middle East and North Africa’s top health tourism destination, according to the World Bank, Jordan and its medical tourism sector are looking for ways to regain their competitive edge after regional unrest in 2011 impacted revenues.

To confront declining medical tourist numbers, Jordan will host two major international health expos in 2012 and will also be promoting its Dead Sea region – home to hot springs, mineral-rich waters and thermal spas – as a destination for health resort tourism. In addition, the country will be showcasing its technological expertise in reproductive care, oncology and stroke treatment.

Earning approximately $1bn in revenues in 2010 and contributing 4% of GDP, the medical tourism sector is a vital contributor to Jordan’s economy. In 2010 the World Bank ranked the country fifth in the world as a medical tourism destination, though regional unrest last year saw the number of patients from Libya, Syria and Yemen decline.

“In 2010 Jordan received about 200,000 health tourists, 90% of whom came from the MENA region,” Awni Bashir, the president of the Private Hospitals Association (PHA), told OBG in December. “However, due to the uncertainty generated by the so-called Arab Spring, in 2011 this number fell to roughly 180,000.”

Indeed, the decline in 2011 has made the country’s current dependence on the regional market clear, and observers are calling for campaigns to increase the sector’s presence in markets further afield, such as those in Europe and the US.

This promotion strategy will be boosted by its hosting of the 2012 Jordan Health Care exhibition in May. The event’s organisers say it will showcase the latest medical developments, technologies and health care products.

“The expo and the parallel conferences provide a forum for the health industry leaders and manufacturers from all over the world to interact and connect with various industry stakeholders and professionals in Jordan and the region,” exhibition manager Ahmad Sarrawi told local media last July.

One likely exhibitor will be Jordan Hospital, the 300-bed multi-specialty hospital in Amman that received an award in 2011 from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for its treatment. The facility ranks US patient numbers as 10th among the 58 nationalities it regularly admits.

Other well-equipped hospitals in Jordan – such as the Specialty Hospital, the Arab Medical Centre and the Al Khalidi Medical Centre – offer a number of treatments at lower costs than those found in Europe and the US. In addition, the Farah Hospital offers cutting edge technology in assisted reproduction and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, while the King Hussein Medical Centre is recognised as one of the top cancer treatment facilities in the world.

Jordan will also host the International Medical Tourism, Wellness and Spa Congress in mid-March, with an anticipated attendance of close to 400 local, international and regional participants. The Congress is organised by the PHA and supported by Royal Jordanian Airlines, the Jordan Investment Board, the Jordan Tourism Board and the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation.

The sector will also likely benefit from plans announced in December by the ministerial council of the GCC to fund a five-year development aid programme for Jordan, which has been invited to be a full member of the political and economic bloc. According to data obtained by The Media Line, during the first eight months of 2011 at least 26% more visitors from the Gulf GCC states came to Jordan.

Whether or not Jordan does join the GCC, closer ties will likely have a positive impact on unemployment, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as medical tourism. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said in January that joint committees on cooperation between his country and the GCC Secretariat will reconvene later in the month.

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