In recent years, Turkey has become a popular destination for tourists seeking out medical treatments, particularly cosmetic surgery, dentistry and fertility treatment. In fact, medical tourism is one of Turkey’s fastest-growing industries, estimated to contribute $4bn to the country’s economy annually.
As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed our Turkish Guide – Alper, to help us understand more about Turkish culture, how it influences attitudes to health, and interesting health trends happening in Turkey at the minute.
Hi Alper! Tell us about yourself – where are you from, what do you do and what are you passionate about?
Hi Cherry! I’m from Samsun and work as a Consultant at a Sports company in Istanbul. I studied in the US and lived in the UAE for several years but chose to come back to my home country. Outside work, I’m an ultra-marathon runner. Running is my biggest passion. I usually run four times a week and do a Marathon once a year. I’m experimenting with vegetarianism and pay close attention to my diet. I want to live a sustainable life as much as I can.
Tell me about Turkish culture
Turkey is like a melting point of European and Middle Eastern culture. In West Turkey, people follow a more European lifestyle whereas in the East, Middle Eastern tradition is more common. Yet as more immigrants from other countries move here, Turkish society is becoming really diverse. Now a modern outlook is paired with conservative behaviours, especially in bigger cities like Istanbul.
It is a collectivist society, and Turkish people are very patriotic. We are very family oriented and will care for our older relatives. People are very willing to help and support communities.
Does Turkish culture influence people’s approach to health?
Yes. Religion is an important part of our lives, I’m a Muslim myself. Islam attaches significant importance to health, and taking care of ourselves is a religious duty. For some Muslims, spiritual values are part of their health beliefs. Before prayers, people are expected to perform a purification ritual called Wudu, requiring that they wash their faces, hands, arms, and feet. In our daily life, we follow strict diets, eating halal food and avoiding alcohol or cigarettes. I personally only eat at restaurants that I really trust. Medications that contain alcohol, gelatin or anything pork-based are forbidden. We use gelatin-free alternatives such as antibiotic liquids or halal gelatin tablets. Turkish Muslims really care about hygiene more so than other countries.
There are also some Turkish methods we follow for mild illnesses. Linden tea is the most popular go-to option for cold and flu symptoms, and it’s available in almost all supermarkets. For home remedies, we drink herbal tea to improve our immune system, common ingredients are lemon, honey, mint and cinnamon. Apart from that, some Muslim people like to have cupping therapy. Cupping is said to increase blood circulation, which relieves muscle tension and improves the overall blood flow.
Also, almost every TV channel has their own version of a morning health show. They invite doctors on the show to talk about different health topics every day.
Compared to Western countries, I believe Turkish people in general are less educated around health. I learn basic health knowledge from family, but school didn’t teach me much. Healthcare is less of a priority when the economy is not good. In general, most people only seek treatments when they have a serious disease, rather than having regular check-ups which is more common in Western countries.
Are there any hot topics people talk about in terms of health recently?
At the moment, the hottest topic is coronavirus from China, people are discussing how it will influence here. Apart from that, our government is developing a concept called “City Hospitals”, which aims to improve health standards and boost the health sector. Basically, the government has adopted a public-private partnership model for the construction and operation of hospital complexes. City hospitals are leased to private companies, with the government only paying fees for medical imaging, laboratories, security, maintenance and health care workers’ salaries. This model is quite successful and now being used in some other countries as well.
As for our healthcare system, people can get free public healthcare if they are employed, so the fee is covered by companies. However, the public health system can be very slow and sometimes they don’t have enough medicine to meet demand. In extreme cases patients will wait 2-3 months for an appointment. A lot people complain that doctors are not attentive or patient enough, it might be related to their stress and the huge number of patients they see every day.
Have you noticed any trends in terms of health in Turkey?
Natural products are becoming more popular here. People are paying attention to ingredients, especially the middle class, who are willing to pay for natural products. I believe that this trend will continue as we become more educated about health with a stronger buying power. Also, health supplements are more common now. But the variety of supplements in Turkey is very limited, and also tends to be quite expensive. Many people try to bring them back from Europe when they travel abroad.
Fitness is booming in Turkey, not on the same scale as the West, though younger generations are going to the gym and women are trying different types of exercises, e.g. pilates, yoga.
Tukey has become popular for medical tourism too, especially hair treatments. There are many high-quality hair treatment companies in Istanbul that offer great value packages for foreign customers, usually covering the flight, hotel and treatment service.
If an international health brand wants to enter the Turkish market, what recommendations would you give?
Most importantly, be educated on Turkish culture, values and religion. Turkish people love to see our culture and country represented.
Brands need to adopt local characteristics because ‘word of mouth’ is the main way we learn about new brands. Turkish people are cautious about new things and prefer to buy products that they are familiar with. Working with trusted influencers on a campaign is a good idea.
Affordability is key. Turkish people don’t have huge buying power so low-priced, high quality products will attract a lot of customers.
Finally, there aren’t many tech innovations here in healthcare. Very few people are using apps or fit bits to track their health. There might be a potential to develop this and educate Turkish people.