Overseeing healthcare for a population of over 80 million, Turkey’s Ministry of Health was put under the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we highlight four of the hot-button items on Minister of Health Dr Fahrettin Koca’s plate as Turkey emerges from the pandemic period.
A few months after WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, described Turkey a strong healthcare champion of 2021 during a virtual press conference, Minister Koca pointed to the injustices in access to healthcare as one of the main learnings from the pandemic during a G20 meeting.
The Minister, who oversees Turkey’s public healthcare system, called for a renewed long-term vision that includes achieving universal health coverage as the main goal of health-related Sustainable Development Goals. Unlike some other countries, Dr Koca said, Turkey’s healthcare system was not unprepared for the pandemic, pointing to the publication of the Pandemic Influenza National Preparedness Plan in 2019.
When Minister Koca presented the 2021 budget of the Ministry of Health at the Turkish Parliament’s Planning and Budget Commission at the end of 2020, he stressed that the pandemic was and would continue to be their primary agenda, and that his department would continue fighting for a country where “the whole society adopted a healthy lifestyle and everyone’s right to health was safeguarded.”
However, with one of the highest diabetes rates in Europe and an obesity rate of 34 percent, Dr Koca also underlined the importance of fighting chronic. “Our goal is to increase the number of obesity centers to 140 in 2021,” he stated.
Finally, he explained his plan to increase the efficiency of the system by strengthening “family practice to make sure that we reduce unnecessary consultation to secondary and tertiary healthcare services.”
“It is unfortunate that a solution has yet to be found,” said Dr Koca during an international forum on vaccine cooperation in August, referring to the stalemate regarding the limits of intellectual property rights during the pandemic. “This situation reveals the inadequacy of past mechanisms and the need to take firm steps towards the future as soon as possible.”
“The process has clearly demonstrated to us the need for international cooperation on matters such as scaling up of R&D efforts, funding support, information-sharing, vaccine production capacities, technology transfer, distribution capacities, emergency use listings, using and sharing data, pricing policies, and fighting vaccine hesitancy and misinformation,” he added.
Trying to lead by example, the minister noted that Turkey had 20 vaccine studies registered with the WHO and that the country would make their vaccines available to “the whole world” once clinical studies were completed. “Access to vaccines is a health right that everyone should enjoy.”
Protecting the Frontline
Through an editorial co-authored with the director of the WHO health workforce, Dr Koca put the spotlight on the challenges faced by frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic.
“[Frontline workers] faced accelerated rates of infection and deaths, lack of adequate personal protective equipment, social discrimination and attacks, and the dilemma of working in COVID-19 settings and returning home to care for friends and family members,” read the editorial.
Following the solidarity approach to domestic vaccines, the minister explained that while access to personal protective equipment was prioritised for domestic use, but “out of international solidarity, Turkey also sent protective and medical equipment to 156 countries and nine international organisations.”