Müzeyyen Yüce / DUVAR

A leading medical association has warned against resuming medical tourism, saying that the move would result in a health disaster amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Turkish authorities previously said that the country will accept patients from 31 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, starting from May 20, prompting strong objection from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB).

“The World Health Organization has warned that a second wave could occur in fall. We still don’t know the consequences of reopening shopping malls and think that bringing patients from abroad on such an early date like May 20 into the hospitals here will be harmful to the health of society,” TTB chairman Sinan Adıyaman told Duvar.

Certain businesses such as shopping malls, barber shops and beauty salons were reopened on May 11 in an effort to boost Turkey’s struggling economy amid a decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases.

‘Ticking time bomb’

Adıyaman said that the PCR tests for the coronavirus have accuracy rates of 55 to 60 percent and that a majority of people that mistakenly test negative exhibit clinical symptoms of the virus. 

“Therefore these people will be wandering inside hospitals like a ticking time bomb. This is an unacceptable and dangerous situation,” he said.

Medical tourism brought in nearly $1.5 billion to Turkey in 2019 and that figure was expected to reach $10 billion by 2023. One million medical tourists were forecasted to arrive in Turkey in 2020, though tourism came to an abrupt halt as a result of the pandemic.

Hair transplantation is a particularly lucrative industry in the country, as the procedure costs a fraction of what it would in European Union countries. 

In a recent announcement, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that two new Istanbul hospitals, one built on the runways of the closed Atatürk Airport and the other on the Anatolian side district of Sancaktepe, would be used for medical tourism.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy and medical doctor Ali Şeker, meanwhile, blasted the decision to resume medical tourism, saying that while people are postponing treatment for serious health problems, allowing the widespread treatment of hair transplants is inadvisable. 

“Destroying the runways of the Atatürk Airport for the opportunistic purpose of medical tourism is unacceptable. On the other hand, will these people receive treatment after being held under quarantine for 14 days after they enter the country? This doesn’t seem to be possible,” Şeker said.  

Politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the right-wing nationalist İYİ (Good) Party have also criticized the decision to readmit medical tourists from abroad on May 20 as risky and untimely.