THE RACE FOR LIFE

Turkey 2012 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: HEALTH

Long lauded for its highly qualified medical personnel, Turkey's healthcare sector is receiving international attention for its advancements in disease prevention and treatment, as the country seeks to expand medical personnel numbers.

For health care in Turkey, 2012 is being marked by successful programs to combat life-threatening diseases and increased government interest in injecting the healthcare workforce with experienced professionals from abroad. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are seeking to develop unique competitive advantages by investing in R&D and focusing on generics.

Life expectancy in Turkey hovers around 72 years for men and 77 years for women, with the probability of death occurring between 15 and 65 at 13% for men and 7% for women. In 2009, health expenditure per capita reached $965, with a total of 6.7% of the country's GDP allocated toward the healthcare sector, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Under the current Justice and Development (AK) Party, health expenditure has increased from TL16 billion in 2003 to TL50 billion in 2012. By the end of 2010, 98% of the population had social security health insurance.

STATE CARE

The Ministry of Health has been a proactive entity in building healthcare infrastructure and targeting diseases specific to the population. At the same time, the government has realized the need to improve the healthcare services of the country by enlisting the support and experience of foreign doctors.

This strategy incorporates a family health plan, responding to local needs and monitoring the health status of the population closely. However, the ability to carry out this strategy is hindered by the distinct lack of healthcare personnel.

For this reason, the government announced its plan to recruit international doctors educated in Turkey to return to the country and practice their profession locally. Under the plan, Turkey will be able to employ more people in the health sector with less state expenditure. “In Europe, there are 340 doctors for every 100,000 people," Minister of Health, Recep Akdağ, said in an interview. “However in Turkey, this figure is 156 doctors for every 100,000." The Ministry of Health launched the state initiative early in 2012, with the aim of treating patients longer and more efficiently.

OVERCOMING CANCER

Although one of the most challenging health issues in the country is cancer—with an estimated 150,000 people diagnosed with some form of the disease each year—the government has worked to overcome the growing number of cancer patients through effective state programs and campaigns.

The National Cancer Control Program was launched in 2010 to improve anti-cancer projects, cancer screening, and prevention efforts as well as to promote awareness of the benefits of early detection. The government has implemented physical infrastructure to conduct community-based screening programs, targeting groups susceptible to breast and cervical cancers. Currently, this screening has reached 12% and 18% of the targeted population, respectively, but the government aims to screen 70% of the group by 2015.

The Ministry of Health aims to decrease cancer mortality rates with by 15% for smoking-related cancers and 10% for all types of cancer by 2015, with the larger aim of becoming one of the few countries in the world to bring cancer cases under control by 2020.

PHARMACEUTICALS

Despite changes in price regulations, the pharmaceuticals sector in Turkey continued to be a profitable business in 2011, generating $10.6 billion in revenues by the end of the year. Among the top international companies operating in the country are Novartis, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi-Aventis.

However, local players are growing their market shares, with Abdi İbrahim taking approximately 7% of the market in 2011, and Bilim Pharmaceuticals registering 5%. In total, there are more than 300 pharmaceutical companies operating domestically in Turkey, including 50 multinational corporations. As of 2011, there were 42 manufacturing facilities in the Marmara region of Turkey, with 13 multinationals operating local facilities in the country. Owing to an imbalanced export-import ratio, increased R&D in the pharmaceutical industry could add value to local output.

Bilim Pharmaceuticals values its R&D center as the largest in the Turkish pharmaceutical industry, with a total of 4,500 sqm of laboratory field. The company invested $15 million at its Bilim Gebze plant, also the the largest drug manufacturing plant in the pharmaceuticals sector. “We make additional investments worth $5 million on average every year," Erhan Baş, General Manager of Bilim Pharmaceuticals, told TBY.

Another local brand, Biofarma, is also aggressively focusing on R&D in 2012. “The investment climate is hot in the country at the moment, and the pharma industry is one of the popular areas. There has been a major acquisition very recently, and I expect some others to follow soon," Serdar Sözeri, General Manager of Biofarma, told TBY.

Generics penetration is high, but still has room for growth. As part of the Ministry of Health's plan from 2010 to 2015, lower patient co-payments and financial rewards for physicians and pharmacists that prescribe generics could boost the industry. However, Business Monitor International has forecasted accelerated growth in generics sales of 8% to 15% by 2015. With high growth potential, the healthcare sector can expect positive results in the coming years.