Day job takes Donaldson to Middle East
Barbara Donaldson represents Porirua on the district health board and the regional council in Wellington, but between meetings her regular job takes her around the world.
As a former health administrator at Kenepuru Hospital and chief executive of Quality Health New Zealand, Ms Donaldson works on behalf of the international Foundation for Health Care Quality auditing systems.
Her most recent trip, in December, was to Jordan and was her fourth to the kingdom.
‘‘Jordan actually has a very good health system but wanted to ensure that by developing an accreditation system which assesses hospitals and organisations,’’ she said
Jordan is, like New Zealand, relatively small at 90,000 square kilometres and lightly populated, with 6.5 million people but the similarities end there.
Bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Israel, it is considered an incredibly important country to the Western world, and accordingly is a major recipient of United States aid.
Foreign aid contributes more than 20 per cent of Jordan’s gross domestic product.
Jordanian health providers are aiming to get into medical tourism, the business of attracting visitors for surgical procedures.
‘‘They believe that they can do it cheaper then a lot of the western countries,’’ Ms Donaldson said. ‘‘To do that they have to establish with the medical insurance companies and with health [service] consumers themselves that they have incredibly high standards.’’
Ms Donaldson and the Foundation for Health Care Quality team assessed the country’s health services’ governance, management, patient care, facilities management, health and safety, ‘‘and risk is huge – assessing risk’’.
Jordan was established arbitrarily by Britain early last century, separated off from Palestine.
It became independent in 1946, but has little arable land, no oil and little water, because most of the River Jordan’s flow is extracted by Israel before it gets there.
‘‘When the British drew the plans they drew them a little too far north,’’ Ms Donaldson said.
Jordan’s 92 per cent Muslim population presents challenges for its health system, including the position of women in it.
It is well-known and accepted in secular western countries that the better the teamwork between medical professionals, with the patient at the centre, the better the outcome.
‘‘In some of these countries, the doctor is still paramount,’’ Ms Donaldson said. ‘‘The other thing is being able to acknowledge a mistake. It’s the hardest thing to do but if you don’t, you can’t improve.’’
Although Jordanians have a life expectancy of more than 80 years at birth, it has a comparatively high infant mortality rate of 16 per 1000 live births (New Zealand’s figure is 4), and the maternal mortality rate is also high at 63 deaths per 10,000 live births (New Zealand’s is 16).
Although Jordan has so far escaped the Arab Spring uprisings, thanks in part to its popular king, it has still brought problems.
There were 235,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war in Jordan at the beginning of 2013.
‘‘How long are they going to live there? And the Palestinian camps have become permanent,’’ Ms Donaldson said.
There were two million Palestinians living in Jordanian refugee camps long term.
Ms Donaldson did not know if she would need to return.
Business traveller: Capital & Coast District Health Board member Barbara Donaldson’s regular job took her to Amman, Jordan, in December.