the head of the Private Hospitals Association, Dr. Fawzi al Hammouri

Hope in Health Tourism

This month, the head of the Private Hospitals Association, Dr. Fawzi al Hammouri, is organizing a conference designed to push Jordan even further up the global medical tourism league table. Al Hammouri believes we need more of these events to promote the country’s medical capabilities.

By: Dominika Bzduchova

The first Global Healthcare Travel Forum is being held in Jordan this month, expected to attract more than 500 high-profile international delegates.

The event is organized by the Private Hospitals Association, which was established in 1984 to represent the country’s private hospitals and raise their reputation. Its chairman, Dr. Fawzi al Hammouri, has a clear objective in mind: despite the lack of a dedicated budget from the public sector to promote the Kingdom’s medical tourism and the difficulty some Arab patients are facing when applying for a Jordanian visa, Jordan remains one of the world’s premier medical tourism destinations.

What is the forum expected to discuss?

The main theme of the forum is the globalization of medical tourism. Some of the planned sessions include discussions around global medical tourism destinations, legislation, regulations, and accreditation, and the perspectives of buyers and patients, and marketing. We are expected to attract more than 500 local, regional and international delegates from all around the world representing healthcare institutions, insurance companies, travel agents, medical tourism facilitators and others. There will also be around 100 buyers from 25 countries, including Chad, Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the member of the GCC. We want to give the participating hospitals a chance to promote their services and thus brand Jordan as the premier medical tourism destination.

The latest Middle East Medical Tourism Report states the top medical destination in the region is now Dubai. How can Jordan reclaim its title?

As far as we’re aware, Jordan does remain the number one medical tourism destination in the region. However, we know that we have existing and emerging competitors, so we launched a new two-year medical tourism marketing strategy in September 2016. The strategy’s focus is on new markets such as Kazakhstan, Chad, Nigeria, and it aims to strengthen our existing position in Oman, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. We are inviting delegates from those countries and we are organizing different events in those countries. Unfortunately, there is no financial assistance from the government in supporting our activities. We trust this will change as the prime minister promised me to allocate a budget for promoting medical tourism.

What else can the government do to support your sector?

The most important step to help us in maintaining our competitive edge as a medical tourism destination is to facilitate the entry for foreign patients to the Kingdom. It is crucial to allocate a budget for promoting Jordan as the best medical tourism destination in the region.

Despite a decision to reduce the visa issuance time for Libyan and Yemeni nationals to 48 hours, further restrictions remain in place for patients from Sudan, Syria, Chad and Nigeria—the key source countries of Jordan’s medical tourists. What actions are you taking to facilitate the visa obtainment process for the rest of the affected countries?

We are meeting with government officials on a regular basis to facilitate visa for restricted nationalities and we submitted a suggestion to the prime minister to use the Egyptian model that includes exemption from visa to children below 15 years and men above 50 years, as well as all women. If this is implemented, it will solve 75 percent of the problem. We as the private hospitals offer financial guarantees to the Ministry of Interior for every foreign patient that we invite—this also helps in some way. We hope to reach a stage where e-visa can be issued to patients and be approved within 24 hours.

You also recently stated that the Libyan government still owes private hospitals in Jordan $300 million for treatment provided to their nationals. Is this problem any closer to being resolved?

We met with our prime minister and I handed over to him a file with all the debts of the Libyan government and he consequently had a meeting with his Libyan counterpart. We are promised to have a solution in the near future. These debts put a lot of pressure on the private hospitals and affect their financial performance and their ability to pay their commitments to others. We really hope that this issue will be solved soon.