Jordan’s medical tourism sector is expected to grow this year but badly needs a strategy, says Zuhair Abu Faris of the Jordan Hospitals Association, which represents 23 hospitals, including 10 public hospitals. Although the country reports 170,000 international patients in the last twelve months, the figure includes 50,000 from Libya who are mainly war victims, while the remaining 120,000 also include many expatriates and travellers.
Jordan provides medical services for Arab countries including Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Algeria, Palestine and the Gulf states, and several of these are involved in war, civil war or domestic problems. The country has so far failed to get medical tourists to attract significant numbers from Europe, America or African countries.
Zuhair Abu Faris argues that the private and public institutions need to work together to develop medical tourism, "We should formulate a national strategy for marketing Jordanian medical services and establish a national organisation.”
That co-operation is needed is shown by the way the problems of Libya are shunted backwards and forwards between various government departments and private hospitals. The Libyan government is arguing that it did not commit to payments to private hospitals and hotels in Jordan in return for Libyan citizens ' medical treatment. The Libyan government continues to delay payments until it has audited the bills as it argues that some prices are too high and some bills are for cosmetic and other treatment unrelated to war injuries. The unpaid bill is US$140 million but as many Libyans are still in hospital, that is rising each month.
Dubai is also trying another medical tourism initiative to promote Dubai’s healthcare sector. Qadhi Saeed Al Murooshid of Dubai Health Authority says, “We will work with the private sector and key relevant government departments, airlines and tourism companies to ensure we develop successful medical tourism initiatives for Dubai,” The region is targeting patients from GCC countries, Middle East North Africa region (MENA), South Asia, Western Europe, Baltic States, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and parts of Africa.
Iran too has new plans to expand medical tourism in the region. A health tourism committee has been formed with representatives of Foreign Ministry, Iran Medical Organization, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, and the Commercial Chamber of Health Ministry. The committee aims to make health tourism policies, and is targeting Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Iran already gets patients from Iraq, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
All three have similar problems in that they are among countries in the region all vying for medical tourists, often competing for the same patients. While they are doing this, an increasing number of wealthy residents of the region are going to Turkey, Germany, Switzerland and other EU countries.
Having new hospitals and the latest equipment is no longer enough to get new business. The price and atmosphere and quality of non-medical service are equally important. Because of the political turmoil in the region, few Americans or Western Europeans are going there as medical tourists; almost all those claimed as international patients are expatriates. One possibility is to target Eastern Europe and Africa, but for most of this business they are competing with Asian countries that offer much lower prices.