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Jordan 2019 | HEALTH | FOCUS: MEDICAL TOURISM

A decade after being acknowledged as a top destination for medical tourism by the World Bank, Jordan is trying to retain its status as the leading provider of healthcare services in the Middle East and North Africa.

medical tourists seek different forms of healthcare, ranging from major surgeries and cancer treatment to less serious cosmetic surgeries and fertility services. Medical tourism has become a billion-dollar industry in the world with a complex value chain. Until recently, health tourists typically headed for western countries with cutting-edge medical know-how; however, many developing nations with reasonably high-quality health systems have started to attract tourists—at times from developed countries—by offering more affordable services and sparing patients the long waiting lists and complex regulations found in their home countries.

Attracting nearly a quarter of a million patients per year, Jordan has been asserting itself as a viable hub for medical tourism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, competing with the region's older healthcare hubs such as Turkey and the UAE. Jordan has a developed healthcare system and benefits from both state-of-the-art medical equipment and well-rehearsed specialists and surgeons. Complicated medical procedures such as open-heart surgery, valve replacement, and kidney transplant have been being carried out in the Kingdom since as early as 1970, and the first heart transplant in the Arab World was accomplished in 1985.

It spends more than most on its health system, but revenues from medical tourism more than make up for Jordan's medical expenses in most years. Thus, Jordan has been able to invest in its health insurance and medical education systems. Moreover, it became one of the first nations in the world to implement a nationwide electronic health record system, which connects the databases of over 850 hospitals and clinics across the country.

Jordan has more strong suits to stand out from the competition; as the Kingdom's healthcare providers speak Arabic—which is not always the case in the UAE—and healthcare costs in the country are competitive, Jordan has succeeded in attracting health tourists from countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, among others.

Amman, a vibrant but inexpensive metropolis, is home to no fewer than 55 general and specialty hospitals run by the Ministry of Health, the Royal Medical Services, and the private sector. Some of these medical centers such as the King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) are one-of-a-kind facilities in the Middle East and the only hope for patients suffering from advanced cancer.
In 2012, The Council of Arab Ministers of Health dubbed Amman the capital of Arab medical tourism, and two years later, the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) recognized Jordan as the winner of its Medical Travel Awards 2014, acknowledging the country's status as the superior medical destination of the year.

The government has decided to play a more supportive role in the promotion of the sector, and there have been talks about the establishment of a special national committee formed of representatives from private hospitals, the tourism board, various healthcare providers' associations, and the cabinet. The government also has taken steps toward facilitating the entry of certain target nationalities by amending some visa policies.

Admittedly, there have been challenges as well; some countries in the Arab world have stopped subsidizing the overseas treatment of their citizens, while conflicts in the region discourage western health tourists from coming to Jordan. However, the decision-makers in charge of the sector have not lost heart. Marketing activities targeting new markets such as the CIS, parts of Africa, and Oman are opening up new horizons, while hospitals are coming up with more attractive healthcare packages.