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The future of medical tourism in Turkey

Outside of its complicated geopolitics, Turkey has shaped its image to one of self-improvement.

From veneers to Brazilian butt lifts, there's very little that the country does not offer in terms of cosmetic surgery. But, like many sectors, the cosmetic industry has suffered as non-essential flights were grounded. Medical tourism has boosted Turkey's image, putting it up there with other countries, such as Mexico, where, in 2018, the industry generated a revenue of $14.1 million. South Korea is also a popular destination for those wanting cosmetic surgery, with medical tourism becoming more popular than health tourism as self-improvement becomes a global marketplace. As it becomes an increasingly popular destination for prospective clients, in 2017 alone the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council reported that 765,000 medical tourists from 144 different countries had "contributed with a direct income of 7.2 billion USD to the Turkish economy." To further incentivise businesses to increase what has proven itself to be a viable financial opportunity, in April 2018, former Turkish finance minister Naci Ağbal announced: "We will offer additional incentives to private companies for their health tourism investments."

The booming industry has contributed greatly to the wider Turkish economy, leading the government to set targets of aiming to bring in two million patients and $20 billion in revenue annually by 2023.

But as the country explores the relatively new marketplace and moves higher up on the ranking of countries that provide excellent foreign healthcare services, it is important to acknowledge how the country has been advertising itself throughout the last decade or so.

The rise of influencers has contributed, in part, to the growth of cosmetic surgery and its demand. As trends of lip fillers, nose jobs and, more recently, 'Brazilian butt lifts' become en vogue, many are trying to buy the 'Instagram face'.

This beauty aesthetic is roughly understood as the combination of high cheekbones, fuller lips and an angled jawline, as the New Yorker describes: "It's a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips."

As trends rise, so do those who capitalise from it. The growth of Instagram plastic surgery doctors and clinics that work to liaise with prospective foreign clients has boomed on the app, showing before and after pictures that are crafted to be seen as desirable. But how does cosmetic tourism now function in a world where a global pandemic has halted international travel?

Speaking to Ali Özbek, the Cofounder of WeCure, an agency that connects UK customers with Turkish hospitals, about the rise in medical tourism and what this means for the country's future, he tells The New Arab that the main reason people choose the country is due to the cost of the procedures.

Currently, 1 Turkish lira is worth 0.13 USD, which means that while the cost of a heart transplant in the US may cost around $150,000, in Turkey it would be $17,000. But, he explains, it's not only the currency that is bringing in customers, the country itself has a "good healthcare system".

Supply and demand work both ways, he explains, if more skilled medical personnel come then so will more clients, and that cycle will continue. But, once the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that Covid-19 was a pandemic, his company, like his competitors, completely shut down operations. The future of the industry was unclear, and, to some extent, still is.

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