Quality improvements in Qatar and UAE, but price will deter medical tourists


In the UAE, the Ministry of Health has begun a health accreditation implementation plan. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali, minister of health, said: "The international accreditation for the ministry's health facilities means applying international standards to all our hospitals ". Since the launch in January 2010, Mehalek, a US international assessment group, has carried out the assessment programme. The ministry has completed phase one by evaluating four hospitals: Sheikh Khalifa in Ajman, Kalba in Sharjah, Saqer in Ras Al Khaimah and Al Fujairah Hospitals. Sheikh Khalifa and Kalba Hospitals have received the international health accreditation certificate.

The initial assessment phase of the National Accreditation Standard (NAS) to be made mandatory for all private hospitals in Qatar has begun. The system is based on Canadian international standards. The health ministry has told private hospitals that they must have international accreditation within the next five years, as this will become part of the requirement for renewing their licences.

Jordan has seen a dramatic loss of medical tourists since the start of the unrest in the Middle East. Jordan’s Private Hospital Association (PHA) has reported that its members have seen a 25 % fall in patient numbers as a direct consequence of regional instability. There has been a 90 % fall in Libyan patient numbers, a 60 %t drop from Syria and a 50 % drop from Yemen and Bahrain. In 2009, Iraqis represented the largest number of foreign patients seeking treatment in the kingdom, accounting for 19 %, followed by Palestinians (16 %) and Saudi Arabians (15 %).

Business Monitor International (BMI) has suggested that stable Gulf states could attract the patients instead but treatment prices in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar were too high, and although Oman is less expensive, ongoing protests there rule it. BMI argues that cost will determine if medical tourists go to Gulf states or Asian destinations. While the UAE, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had made significant investments to encourage medical tourism, all sufferfrom having high treatment costs.

Where the argument that the countries that used to send people to Jordan will now look to other Gulf states falls down is that because of political unrest-it is not the case that people are looking for alternatives, but that they are not travelling at all. Libya, Syria, Iraq and Palestine are all suffering from political unrest, and it will take many years for people to start travelling overseas for treatment; and in Libya’s case, outbound medical tourism will probably never recover.

As with many Middle East/Gulf countries, the numbers of real medical tourists are often overstated due to the huge numbers of expatriate workers; so equating international patient numbers with medical tourism numbers is very misleading. Mahatma Davis of ArabMedicare.com comments, “ It is important to understand the composition of Jordan's medical tourism industry. The 220,000 also includes foreigners who are living and working in Jordan. Therefore, there can be a misinterpretation of their numbers to mean there is a larger international patient flow that is inbound; but in reality, the market is much smaller (half) as it relates to the actual number of patients who specifically travel to Jordan for treatment on an annual basis. The GCC would not be in a position to capitalize on Jordan's misfortune because their loss is in patient flows from conflict areas, and those governments are now not in a position to send/refer patients abroad for treatment. Therefore, that business is on hold to everyone.”



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