Turkey has one of the most revered Social Security Systems in the world, providing its citizens with free healthcare and access to a long list of innovative cancer drugs. However, with one of the youngest populations in Europe, the sustainability of the system is uncertain as its incredibly young population gets older and incidence of cancer increases.
“With the rise in life expectancy, oncological diseases have become a serious problem that threatens the health of our people,”
Mahmut Gümüş, president of the Turkish Society of Medical Oncology
Right now, Turkey’s healthcare sector is in a relatively comfortable position. The country’s Social Security System, SGK, provides universal healthcare with broad coverage and rates of chronic illness are low.
Koçak Farma, founded in 1971 is one of the biggest players in the Turkish pharmaceutical market, with 1700 employees and over 600 different products, focusing on gynaecology, urology, cardiology and most notably oncology.
“We have the largest production facility in Turkey at, 140,000 square metres on the outskirts of Istanbul, producing all pharmaceutical forms from tablets to injectables” Hakan Koçak, CEO of Koçak Farma told us in a recent exclusive interview.
Koçak launched its oncology arm in 2005 and started producing cancer medication after receiving European Union Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification. Since then they have created over 100 oncology treatments making them the leading cancer company in Turkey, producing one in two of the products sold in the country.
“Our Social Security System SGK is maybe the best in the world, because it covers almost everything related to health and pensions, so as a Turkish citizen you can now receive free access to healthcare,” said Koçak. “However, it is very difficult to create a functional system without a budget, so we have to discount the prices of our products for them to fit into their budget and become reimbursable,” he continued.
With 50 percent of the Turkish population under the age of 31, the country is set to experience a dramatic epidemiological shift over the coming decades as their incredibly young population enters old age.
“With the rise in life expectancy, oncological diseases have become a serious problem that threatens the health of our people,” Mahmut Gümüş, president of the Turkish Society of Medical Oncology told us. Although Turkey’s cancer rates are below the rest of Europe, Industry leaders like Gümüş hold concern for the future.
As the Turkish population ages, officials must be ready for rising cases of cancer and a commensurate increase in costs. Koçak calls for the government to do more to incentivise the production of drugs domestically to keep companies willing to sell their products at a discounted price: “The government has created some incentives for the industry to participate in this vision, but sometimes this is not enough.”
The prices of medicines in Turkey are extremely cheap, consistently ranking behind many African countries. In comparison to European nations and other countries in its region, Turkey invests little money into its healthcare, so companies like Koçak that produce hundreds of products domestically are incredibly important in allowing Turkey not to rely on costly imports. “To remain relevant in the system we have to continue producing in the country to keep costs as low as possible,” Koçak explained.
Looking towards a future with a potentially greater incidence of cancer, Gümüş asserts that, “At this point, it would be useful for two basic strategies to be implemented rapidly: Firstly, expanding current screening programs to increase early detection possibilities and reduce cost. The second is to prevent the disease by implementing preventative programs such as anti-smoking and anti-obesity programs.”