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Egypt turns to medical tourism

Egypt announced that construction of the largest medical city in the Middle East has begun, which is expected to boost the economy and medical tourism.
Egyptian doctor Karim Ahmed, 31, examines a patient at Al-Moniera public hospital in Cairo October 2, 2012.Egypt's doctors began a partial strike on Monday with varied demands, including making the health budget 15 percent of the state budget, and improving security conditions to protect doctors and patients from assaults, said representatives from the Doctors' Syndicate.  REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: CIVIL UNREST HEALTH) - GM1E8A21L5W01

CAIRO — Chairman of Badr City Development Authority Ammar Mandour said in a press conference June 7 that the largest medical city in the Middle East and Africa is being built in Badr City, located 47 kilometers (29 miles) from Cairo on the Cairo-Suez road, with investments worth 20 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.2 billion).

Mandour explained that 90% of investments were made by Egyptian companies, in addition to some foreign ones, and that the medical city is expected to include 13 medical institutes with a capacity of 2,000 beds, air medical services, a university hospital, natural healing gardens and a medicinal plant nursery.

Speaking at the same press conference, Mohammed Suleiman, secretary-general of Badr University and the medical city, noted that the most modern management systems in the world would run the city in order to provide the best services to Egyptian and foreign patients; 10% of beds would be allocated for free to Egyptian citizens who cannot afford treatment elsewhere.

Suleiman noted that the project area is 109 acres, approximately 500,000 square meters, and the city will start providing medical services 30 months after construction begins. The entire project is expected to take up to five years to be completed.

Hassan al-Qala, chairman of Cairo for Investment and Real Estate Development (CIRA), the company implementing the project, said during an interview with Al-Hayah TV Network's "Al-Hayah Al-Youm" on June 9, “Egypt's share of medical tourism is not enough given its appropriate climate and areas with perfect characteristics for this type of tourism, in addition to medical competencies. Today, we want this project to make Egypt the No. 1 destination for medical tourism in the Middle East and Africa, especially as it pays great attention to health care.”

Qala said that the project would support the Egyptian economy through the increase in tourists, in addition to the 15,000 new jobs for doctors and medical staff. “We are currently drawing up contracts with a foreign company to take over the administration for a few years and then gradually withdraw until Egyptians start handling everything,” he added.

However, he did not mention the name of the foriegn company as CIRA is still considering two tenders, one from a German company and another one from an American company.

Qala noted that the medical city is located on the Suez road, east of Cairo, and next to the new administrative capital, only three minutes from the regional ring road and 50 minutes from Ain Sokhna port on the Red Sea coast.

The chairman of the board of trustees of the independent Egypt Medical Enviro Tourism, Abd Elaty Elmanaee, told Al-Monitor over the phone that a medical city would be a promising addition in the field of medical tourism in Egypt, especially since there are plenty of highly skilled doctors working with the Ministry of Health and in the private sector.

Elmanaee added, "It is necessary to distinguish between medical tourism, which depends mainly on hospitals and therapeutic clinics, and health tourism, which relies on areas with natural characteristics such as sulfur water and therapeutic sand used in the treatment of some diseases, because this would help to properly promote the medical city abroad.”

Egypt includes a number of areas with key characteristics for health tourism, such as sulfur water, remedial sand and a suitable climate. For instance, the city of Hurghada features a coral reef, the city of Safaga's sand is used to treat psoriasis and the Pharaoh Bath in the Sinai Peninsula is a natural sulfur water spring, which, along with other areas with similar characteristics, is suitable for the treatment of the sick, according to the State Information Service.

Elmanaee said that Egypt’s price competition with Western countries, as well as the possibility of getting treatment and visiting tourist attractions all in one trip, would be a major attraction for tourists. He stressed the need to pay attention to services for people with special needs and the elderly, as this would increase the target groups, ultimately contributing to an improvement of the Egyptian economy.

Medhat al-Sharif, member of the parliamentary Economic Committee, told Al-Monitor, “Investment in medical tourism would benefit the country’s economy as a whole through the injection of foreign currencies, especially since this type of tourism is not currently available in Egypt despite the numerous suitable places, appropriate climate and entertainment means.”

He added, “It is interesting to see a plan for a medical city in one of the new cities such as Badr [built in 1982], instead of the usual spots near beaches and monuments. This is a positive development.”

Sharif noted, “Service providers in the medical city must adopt therapeutic and recreational programs that help attract tourists and service recipients as well as trips to areas with natural therapeutic properties, and carry out market research studies to determine what the consumer [patient] wants and needs.”

Yemen al-Hamaki, professor of economics at Ain Shams University in Cairo, told Al-Monitor, “Building a city for medical tourism is a good investment in this field and will support the Egyptian economy, especially given Egypt’s climate and the city's distinctive location."

She noted that such a city would allow medical professionals to find employment locally, instead of having to look for job opportunities abroad.

Hamaki said that the city's success would depend on whether the medical staff would be properly trained to deal with the different nationalities and know the diseases of the target groups in the Middle East and Africa, in addition to providing financial advantages, so Egypt can top the list of countries that offer medical tourism.

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