Hadassah head calls for medical tourism to be 'national priority'

Medical tourism - the treatment of foreigners in Israeli medical institutions - should be more than tripled within five years to bring in $100 million annually, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, said on Monday. Mor-Yosef said medical tourism should be a "national priority," to produce revenue to be used to improve health care and disease prevention for the poor. Hadassah Medical Organization's two university medical centers in Jerusalem treat quite a few foreign patients. Mor-Yosef said Israel could use the additional income from treating foreigners to reduce inequality in health care. Poverty, he said, kills, as those with low income suffered more from chronic diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. Mor-Yosef was speaking at the first Israel Medical Convention held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, organized by his organization with help from the Israel Medical Association and the Ha'ir chain of local weekly newspapers. More than 600 participants (about half of them medical professionals and the rest from the general public) attended some eight hours of lectures and panel discussions. Organizers said they hoped to make it an annual event. Mor-Yosef called on the Health Ministry and the Treasury to fund a marketing campaign abroad to promote medical tourism. He told convention participants, who included Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, that a growing number of countries had set a goal of increasing medical tourism to raise income, including Poland, France, Turkey, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Thailand and Malaysia. Although Israel offers world-class medicine, he continued, medical tourism constitutes less than 1 percent of the country's tourism income, with 10,000 foreigners spending $30 million a year on treatments. Local hospitals' hotel services were not the best, but they are improving, he said. Unlike in many countries, in Israel, locals receive the same level of care as foreigners who come here to undergo treatment. A full report on the convention will appear on Sunday's Health Page.