Turkey’s rise as healthcare tourism destination and lessons for Nigeria

Healthcare tourism is a rapidly growing industry that involves individuals traveling across international borders to receive medical treatments, procedures, or healthcare services. This phenomenon has gained significant traction in recent years due to several driving factors.

One of the primary reasons for the rise of medical tourism is the disparity in healthcare costs between countries. Many individuals, especially those from developed nations with higher healthcare expenses, seek medical treatments in developing countries where the costs are significantly lower.

This cost advantage can be substantial, even after factoring in travel expenses, making medical tourism an attractive option for those seeking affordable healthcare solutions.

In addition to cost savings, medical tourism offers patients the opportunity to combine medical treatments with recreational activities or tourism experiences. Some destinations have strategically marketed themselves as medical tourism hubs, offering not only top-notch healthcare facilities but also attractive tourism packages that allow patients to recover in a relaxing and rejuvenating environment.

The availability of specialised treatments and cutting-edge medical technologies in certain countries has also fuelled the growth of medical tourism. Patients may travel to countries that excel in specific medical fields, such as cosmetic surgery, dentistry, fertility treatments, or alternative therapies, to receive high-quality care that may not be readily available or as advanced in their home countries.

At the recently held 6th Global Healthcare Travel Forum and Conference in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Emin Çakmak, the Founding Chairman of the Global Healthcare Travel Council and President of the Turkish Healthcare Tourism Development Council, delivered a speech that highlighted Turkey’s remarkable journey in becoming a preferred global healthcare travel destination. The conference, attended by representatives from 56 countries, including Nigeria’s Doctorcare247, provided valuable insights into the factors driving Turkey’s success in the medical tourism industry.

Over the past two decades, Turkey has invested heavily in its healthcare infrastructure, allocating more than $50 billion to build new hospitals and acquire the latest medical technologies. This investment has enabled the country to offer world-class medical services, including cutting-edge treatments such as CyberKnife, GammaKnife, TrueBeam, and da Vinci robotic surgery, as well as advanced stem cell therapies and organ transplantation procedures.

Furthermore, Turkey boasts a highly skilled medical workforce, with over 15,000 doctors who have graduated from Western and Turkish medical universities. This pool of talented healthcare professionals, combined with state-of-the-art facilities, has positioned Turkey as a formidable player in the global healthcare travel market.

Turkey’s success in healthcare tourism can be attributed to the convergence of several factors, including its world-class medical services, well-developed hospitality infrastructure, geographical convenience, and natural beauty. This unique combination has made the country an attractive destination for various healthcare travel segments, such as medical treatment, wellness, spa and thermalism, sports medicine, retirement, and accessible tourism.

Notably, Turkey has witnessed a surge in retirement tourism, with approximately 3 million international guests currently residing in the country after retirement. This figure is expected to rise to 5 million by 2025, contributing significantly to the Turkish economy. The country’s favourable environment, weather conditions, and accessible healthcare services have made it an appealing destination for retirees.

The Turkish government has played a crucial role in facilitating the growth of the healthcare tourism industry. The Ministry of Health has established a dedicated department to monitor the competencies of hospitals, ensure compliance with regulations, and maintain pricing transparency for medical tourism services.

Additionally, many private hospitals in Turkey have obtained accreditation from renowned agencies such as the Joint Commission International (JCI), TEMOS, and the Turkish Healthcare Travel Accreditation Council, further enhancing the sector’s credibility and quality assurance.

The statistics speak volumes about Turkey’s success in medical tourism. In 2005, the country welcomed 126,000 international patients, but this number has skyrocketed, reaching 1.7 million in 2023, representing a significant contribution of $20 billion to the Turkish economy. By 2025, Turkey aims to attract 2 million international patients from 187 countries.

Nigeria, represented at the conference by Doctorcare247, can draw valuable lessons from Turkey’s experience in developing a thriving healthcare tourism industry.

Like Turkey, Nigeria must prioritise investments in modern healthcare facilities, cutting-edge medical technologies, and the training and retention of skilled healthcare professionals. Upgrading hospitals with modern equipment and technology is crucial to attracting patients seeking advanced medical care. This will not only improve the quality of healthcare services for Nigerians but also position the country as a competitive medical tourism destination.

Turkey’s success has been facilitated by collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors. Nigeria should explore similar partnerships to leverage the expertise and resources of both sectors, fostering an environment conducive to healthcare tourism growth.

Establishing a robust regulatory framework and accreditation systems is crucial for ensuring patient safety, maintaining quality standards, and building trust among international healthcare travellers. Nigeria can learn from Turkey’s experience in implementing rigorous monitoring mechanisms and obtaining international accreditations.

Turkey has actively promoted its healthcare tourism offerings through its extensive global network of offices and partnerships with airlines and travel agencies. Nigeria should develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to showcase its medical expertise, facilities, and unique cultural attractions to potential international patients.

Again, Turkey’s success is partly due to its ability to combine medical excellence with its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Nigeria, with its diverse landscapes, vibrant culture, and historical sites, can leverage these assets to create a compelling healthcare tourism experience for international visitors.

The Turkish government’s support, through incentives and facilitative policies, has been instrumental in the growth of the healthcare tourism industry. Nigeria’s government should explore similar measures to incentivise private sector investments, facilitate visa processes, and create an enabling environment for healthcare tourism to thrive.

While Turkey’s success story is undeniable, the path to healthcare excellence is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Nigeria, with its unique strengths and challenges, can leverage learnings from Turkey but must tailor the strategy to its specific context. This may involve focusing on specific medical specialties in high demand within the African region or prioritizing the development of medical tourism infrastructure in key cities with established tourist attractions.

Collaboration, however, remains the key. By sharing knowledge, fostering partnerships between hospitals and medical professionals, and advocating for continued government support, both Turkey and Nigeria can become regional leaders in medical tourism, ultimately contributing to a future where high-quality healthcare is accessible to all.

Okeke writes from Abuja