COVID-19 increases Turkey’s appetite for health tourism
Health tourism is not a new thing for Turkey. In 2010, the Health Ministry established the Health Tourism Unit, which later became the Health Tourism Coordination Council (SATURK), to orchestrate the efforts to turn Turkey into a medical tourism hub.
Turkey’s structured healthcare system, well-educated and skilled medical doctors and health personnel, competitive health service prices and long status as a global touristic destination, are all important advantages on this front.
According to the Health Ministry, 890,000 international patients received treatment in Turkish health institutions in 2019, representing a 62 percent increase over 2018. The five largest sources of patients last year were Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Libya and Germany. Turkey is planning to appoint health counselors to these countries, which are seen as strategically important target nations to attract more patients. In 2018, meanwhile, Turkey generated around $1.5 billion from health tourism amid hopes to multiply this figure in the decade to come.
In an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News in 2019, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said there had been an increase in the number of foreign patients in fields in which Turkey excels, such as cardiovascular diseases and transplants. In addition, there was a big demand in 2018 for aesthetic and plastic surgeries, as well as hair transplants, as these services are both reasonably priced and conducted at a high quality, according to Koca.
The Turkish government believes that the city hospitals boasting special units to specifically serve foreign patients will become the focal points of health tourism as underlined in the ministry’s 10th and 11th development plan. Eleven city hospitals are currently operating in Turkey, but the country plans to add seven more in the next two years.
In this, the COVID-19 outbreak is a new opportunity for Turkey. For one, Turkey has succeeded in containing the spread of the coronavirus and keeping its death toll to a minimum in comparison to global averages. Turkey’s healthcare system has so far proven to be able to handle the pandemic at a moment when even most developed nations are facing serious difficulties. The continuation of this performance will surely add to the reputation of the country’s healthcare system.
Second, the government continues to invest in its health infrastructure, with authorities deciding to construct two big pandemic hospitals with 1,000 beds on each side of Istanbul. Explaining why authorities elected to build the two hospitals if Turkey is doing so well in its fight against the coronavirus, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “We attach great importance to health tourism,” adding that both hospitals were located close to airports to facilitate travel for overseas patients.
“We have different plans regarding them. Foreign patients will be able to come by planes, ambulance planes, and will fly home after treatment. This is a new opening for us. With this move, Turkey will serve as a health hub,” Erdoğan said.
With concerns that the novel coronavirus will be in our lives much longer than envisaged, it will be worth following Turkey’s efforts to lure international patients.