MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michelle Norris.
It could become the biggest medical facility in the Middle East. Construction is underway on the first phase of the International Medical Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It focuses on issues critical to health care in the region. In the coming years, it will include a nursing school and a medical college.
NPR's Peter Kenyon paid a visit.
PETER KENYON: The first impression one gets of the International Medical Center is the cool, spacious reception area. There is no crush of patients and family members trying to figure out where to go, just the high-ceilinged, marble-covered room with huge windows looking out onto a leafy garden. Behind the garden is a mosque.
Marketing director Abdul Shaban(ph) says this is part of the founders' approach to healing. And while it may seem extravagant and cost-inefficient, he says the center is seeing positive results.
Mr. ABDUL SHABAN (Marketing Director, Jeddah's International Medical Center): And, you know, I was talking to the Dr. Fariq(ph) yesterday telling him that every square meter counts in a hospital because this is a profit-making private hospital. So basically, investing in a garden would not seem to be the best logical thing, but yes, it really promotes healing. It really decreases the time that a person will stay in a hospital. So the average stay in the hospital is less in this hospital than other benchmarks in the region.
KENYON: The center was founded as a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America's best hospitals. A distinctive feature of the center here in Jeddah is its willingness to combine traditional medicine with alternative treatments, such as reflexology. Every new hire is introduced to the center's philosophy of healing mind, body and soul. Traditional medicine is hardly shortchanged here, however. The center incorporates cutting-edge medical technology with some innovative design features. Sheban points out one small example in the intensive care unit where each nursing station has a window into two rooms.
Mr. SHEBAN: Now here, as you see, in the ICU, it's - the biggest in the Middle East. And as you know, there is a - I think, it's a worldwide crisis in terms of nursing. And what we have here is a very beautiful system that one nurse can watch over two patients in the same time without diverting the attention on one patient more than the other.
KENYON: No expense seems to have been spared at the International Medical Center, which Sheban hopes will lead Saudis to look here for first-class health care instead of traveling abroad. But the optimist also raises the obvious question, will only wealthy Saudis and foreigners be able to afford to come here?
Former journalist Khaled al-Batarfi(ph), now with the center's public relations department, says the founders established a multimillion-dollar fund to subsidize health care for the poor.
Mr. KHALED al-BATARFI (Public Relations Officer, IMC; Former Journalist): Another part of our mission here is to help the needy. And that's why the partners of this organization put fund. If somebody unable to pay part of his bill, we'll cover that for him. If he couldn't pay anything, we'll still heal them.
KENYON: On the other hand, this is not an altruistic enterprise. One of the six centers of excellence at the International Medical Center is the highly lucrative field of cosmetic surgery. A more important area of focus, however, may be diabetes, which Abdul Sheban says is plaguing the kingdom.
Mr. SHEBAN: Because, as you know, the prevalence of diabetes in Saudi Arabia is the highest in the world. One of every four people over 25 years old is either pre-diabetic or diabetic. So that's a very high ratio. So diabetes is one of the centers of excellence that we have.
KENYON: In the coming years, plans call for a nursing school, medical college and an 85-storey hotel, and perhaps additional medical centers in Riyadh and Dubai.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jeddah.
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