Early Islamic civilization, known for its many contributions in the fields of medicine and healing, had a well established health care system in place for foreigners. Probably the most famous medical tourism facility was Mansuri Hospital in Cairo (erected: 1248 AD). With a total in-patient capacity of 8,000 people, Mansuri Hospital was not only the largest hospital of the time, but it was also the most advanced health care facility that the world had ever seen. The complex included separate wards for women, a pharmacy, a library, and numerous lecture halls. There were also facilities for surgery and separate departments for eye diseases. No patient was to be turned away on account of race or religion, and no limits were imposed on a patient’s stay in the hospital. Progressive well ahead of its time, the governing body of the hospital (Waqf) boldly promised the following:
The hospital shall keep all patients, men and women, until they are completely recovered. All costs are to be borne by the hospital, whether the people come from afar or near, whether they are residents or foreigners, strong or weak, low or high, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, blind or sighted, physically or mentally ill, learned or illiterate.
There are also numerous accounts of welfare-driven hospitals in Baghdad and Syria that catered to weary travelers from abroad. Accommodations at these health care facilities, or bimaristans as they were known locally, were far from cramped. Many of them were actually palaces that had been donated by nobles and princes who were inspired by the Islamic principles of charity. Furnishings were opulent, and these luxurious lodgings were available to an endless stream of people from abroad.
Endowments were the primary source of funding at many of these medical tourism facilities. At Mansuri Hospital, for example, yearly revenues from generous donations were well into the millions (dirhams).