TBY talks to Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, Minister of Health, on progress over the past 12 years, lifestyle diseases, and medical tourism.

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.

As Minister of Health, how would you assess Turkey's progress in the health sector?

Around 10 years ago, the status of Turkish healthcare was deplorable. People would go to stand in a hospital line with the morning call to prayer, and would spend half their day queuing for medicine, or would sit in hospital gardens on drips because of a lack of beds. In short, it was an approach to health that was undeserving for our nation. When we came to power, we set about correcting this dire situation. We had to prove that affordable healthcare was not a privilege, but a fundamental right for everyone. We are at the point today where those promises have been kept. Projects that were once unimaginable for Turkey have come to life. But we are not satisfied with this, and every day we add a new project to our chain of accomplishments. Among these accomplishments is the construction of the largest health campus in Europe; a high level of preventive healthcare; an expansion of our air, sea, and land ambulance fleet; free healthcare services; healthcare delivered to the homes of hundreds of thousands of people; mobile pharmacies; cancer diagnostic facilities in 81 provinces; our Türkök stem cell research project, and much more. After these projects were completed, the approval rating for health services shot up from 39.5% to 75%.

What new projects is the Ministry of Health planning?

We have never rested on our laurels; on the contrary, we have pushed and kept pushing to provide quality health services. In order to be able to meet the people's needs and expectations in a critical field such as health, you need long-term projects. With this in mind, we are creating health infrastructure that will live up to Turkey's Vision 2030. Our progress in preventive and curative medicine has been praised and appreciated, not only by our own citizens, but also by international health authorities. Our primary aim is to protect our people from all forms of diseases. When we do encounter those diseases, we aim to combat them effectively through our network of technologically advanced, state-of-the-art health centers. A short time ago, we opened a tender for a laboratory that would do tissue sampling. Besides that, we have also come a long way in organ donations and transplants, which has been a serious problem for Turkey in the past, starting a broad-based campaign that has included local municipalities, community religious figures, and other leading figures in society. We will continue placing all our resources to the task of improving and raising our citizens' health and life quality.

The Ministry is paying special attention to the problem of obesity in Turkey. What kinds of campaigns and work are being done to combat obesity?

Obesity has become a global epidemic in recent years and, unfortunately, Turkey is no exception. At the Ministry, we are undertaking three main programs: the “Turkish Healthy Eating and Active Life Program," the “Turkish Diabetes Prevention and Control Program," and the “Turkish Reduction of Excessive Salt Consumption Program." With our “Healthy Nutrition School Program," we have banned all energy drinks, carbonated soft drinks, aromatic drinks, and colas, as well as fried food and chips from school canteens. Instead, schools now supply milk, ayran, mineral water, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and also fruit. Furthermore, we have reduced the amount of salt in bread, and our efforts to reduce salt in cheeses and olives are also currently continuing in ministerial commissions. The best and most effective way to combat obesity, diabetes, and coronary disease is to lead an active lifestyle and to eat a good, nutritious, and balanced diet. With this goal in mind, we have declared 2014 the Year of Healthy Living and Activity. We are organizing events and campaigns throughout the country to promote a healthy lifestyle, and this work will continue into the future.