Foreign patients are seen at the Medipol Mega University Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, June 12, 2019. According to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), around 600,000 foreigners came to Turkey for health purposes in 2018, generating nearly 2 billion U.S. dollars in revenue. (Xinhua/Xu Suhui)
by Zeynep Cermen
ISTANBUL, June 16 (Xinhua) -- Everything in her life seemed bright for Alona Vietrenko, a 19-year-old Ukrainian hockey player and medical student, until when she was diagnosed with leukemia in her hometown of Dnepr in January.
"Alona couldn't walk at all, despite all the efforts of the doctors," Olga Vietrenko, Alona's mother, told Xinhua at the reception of a mega-hospital in Istanbul with daughters Alona and Kateryna beside her.
"That was then when we decided to seek alternative health remedies abroad," said the mother.
Following a detailed research online, they opted to come to Istanbul and proceed with the treatment at Medipol Mega University Hospital.
"All the comments were indicating that the hospital was the best option, as all the reviews about it were affirmative as well," Kateryna said.
With a capacity of 515 beds, the Medipol hospital is Turkey's largest health compound, housing four separate hospitals on general, cardiovascular surgery, oncology and dental clinics.
The Medipol hospital is among the 50 health centers in Turkey certified to receive and treat foreign patients.
Alona now has a new oncologist who interfered in the treatment in Ukraine over the phone before she came to Istanbul.
"I can walk now and I am waiting for a marrow transplant from my sister," Alona said. "All I want is to get well, join my team and continue my medical education."
Last year, the Medipol hospital had 30,000 foreign patients from a total of 107 countries, and it is expecting an increase of 30 to 35 percent in the number of health tourists this year.
Polina Cubenco, a five-year-old Ukrainian girl who has been suffering from bone cancer for almost a year, is among the hospital's youngest foreign patients.
"Polina's illness is a tough one," her mother said, adding her treatment must be conducted under the control of an experienced medical team.
"That's why we started to seek alternatives abroad, and we received the quickest response from Medipol," she explained. Polina has been taking chemotherapy treatment at the hospital for almost three months.
According to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), around 600,000 foreigners came to Turkey for health purposes in 2018, generating nearly 2 billion U.S. dollars in revenue.
There has been a general upward tendency in Turkey's health tourism, mostly because of the "qualified health services presented by the country's five-star hospitals and well-educated physicians," said Firuz Baglikaya, head of the TURSAB.
For him, the health tourism revenue is expected to hit 10 billion dollars in 2023, the year when Turkey will mark its centennial anniversary.
For Ceyhun Dundar, a Medipol hospital doctor, four to five hours of flight from the country to many locations around the globe, affordable prices and the quality of health services are the primary factors that help attract foreigners to Turkey for different health purposes, varying from cosmetic surgeries to dental operations.
Dundar also owns a business which helps bring foreign patients to Turkey. Through his Medicef, a total of 100 patients came to Turkey in 2018 from different countries.
This year he expects to attract around 300 foreigners. "If everything goes at that pace, we hope to increase the number to 1,000 in 2020," the doctor said.
Medicef's clients are mostly from Arab countries, followed by those from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
"Patients from African countries have also started to choose Turkey, as the national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines, launched direct flights from many locations in the continent," said Dundar.
Medicef is now planning to tap the Asian market.
"But our job in Asia is quite tough as we have been challenged by good health opportunities presented in Thailand," Dundar said.
Turkey is ranked fifth in the world, after the United States, Germany, Thailand and India, in terms of the number of international patients, according to the Turkish Health Ministry.
The amount a health tourist spends in Turkey varies depending on the treatment.
"One of my patients recently spent 1,450 U.S. dollars in total while another spent 24,500 dollars," Dundar said, noting an organ transplant costs between 20,000 to 60,000 dollars.
A health tourist spends between 700 and 1,200 dollars per day, while a cultural tourist contributes usually 300-350 dollars to Turkey's economy, according to the latest data.