TBY talks to Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, Minister of Health, on the transformation of the healthcare sector, the importance of medical tourism, and the changing focuses of the Ministry of Health.

Mehmet Müezzinoğlu
Mehmet Müezzinoğlu graduated with a degree in Medicine in 1982 and completed his residency at Haseki Hopsital in 1986, shortly after becoming a naturalized Turkish citizen. His career in politics began in 1992 and he worked for the Justice and Development (AK) Party Istanbul Provincial Directorate during 2002-2007. He is also a Founder and Partner of a private hospital in Avcılar.

How would you describe the development and transformation of Turkey's healthcare system in the last 10 years?

We began the Healthcare Transformation Program so as to provide accessible, quality, and sustainable health care access for all. With this program, we have provided health care access and services to citizens living in some of the most inaccessible regions of Turkey. The speed and extent to which we have improved our healthcare figures has set a standard for success on a global scale. Our citizens have appreciated our success, and satisfaction with healthcare services nationwide has gone from 39% to 76%. We have also been very successful in areas such as mother-child care, vaccinations, and the prevention of contagious diseases.

What kind of activities is the government engaged in for Turkey to reach its 2023 objectives in the healthcare sector?

Healthcare transformation is an ongoing, innovative, and dynamic process. The ultimate aim is a healthy society, both physically and spiritually. That is why we have created the 2010-2017 Strategic Plan, which sets out the way in which we aim to safeguard and keep improving our citizens' health. We worked closely with the WHO when mapping out this strategic plan. We also took into consideration the Tallinn Plan, Health 2020, and the European Action Plan for the Strengthening of Public Health Capacities and Services. This strategic plan outlines our objectives and aims, foremost of which is our desire to safeguard and protect our citizens' health in an equitable and just way for all. Our ultimate aim is to be in the top-10 countries in the world in terms of the quality of our healthcare sector by 2023. We have the necessary knowledge, experience, and determination to achieve this goal.

How would you characterize Turkey's role in the international health tourism market?

A decade ago, our citizens would go overseas for healthcare services. Now, our country has become an international health tourism center. Our geographic location, the quality of our healthcare facilities, our qualified and experienced human resources, and our thermal spas and natural beauties all contribute to Turkey having become an international healthcare destination. Our level of advancement in health care puts us among the top countries in the world in this field. With our advanced, high-tech facilities and relatively economic price advantages, we stand out as a shining star in the global health-tourism sector. While improving the healthcare standards for our own citizens on the one hand, we are also offering these same high standards to regional countries. We plan on providing strong healthcare services to a regional population of nearly 1 billion people. We are also creating free healthcare zones to develop health tourism further and cater to the healthcare needs of visitors from abroad. We are offering many advantages for investors in these free healthcare zones. Our country's existing high-quality and cost-effective healthcare services will become even more advantageous through these free zones.

What are Turkey's public health objectives in the medium term, and what importance do these have for Turkey's overall economic growth and development?

With the reforms we have made in the healthcare sector, maternal and infant mortality, as well as contagious diseases, are no longer a significant health problems. In order to improve even further, we have strengthened our infrastructure and continued to work with the same focus and determination as always. As with other developed countries, we now focus our efforts mostly on dealing with chronic diseases. Our aim is to protect our citizens from chronic illnesses by not only focusing on risk factors and preventative measures, but also focusing on what we call “secondary protection," which involves early diagnosis and effective treatment methods. Besides combating tobacco use and obesity, we also have programs for dealing with diabetes and chronic respiratory and coronary diseases. One of the most important factors for the success and longevity of such a comprehensive healthcare transformation program is sustainability. We have created a healthcare system that is built on solid foundations, that has a long-term vision, and that has, for the most part, become institutionalized. A bright future awaits us in health care.