Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, a travel and tourism trade exhibition and conference event, which was held recently in Lagos, was focused on medical tourism and health insurance, with operators in tourism and a number of health professionals and insurance companies in attendance. Turkish medical professionals and groups took the center stage as partners with Akwaaba to pitch for medical tourism. One of the groups that caught the attention of many was the Medical Park Group, which enthralled the participants with insightful, stimulating and revealing presentation.
Sema Gun, who is the International Business Development Regional Manager of the group, held the audience spellbound with her revealing presentation. The beautiful and selectable young lady came across as a well schooled sales person who knows her game and numbers as well as the audience as she made quite an impression on the audience.
In an interview with her later, the first impression you come away with is that she has been in Nigeria for quite awhile, however, it is her first visit and she has only been in the country for three days. She seems to have learned a lot about the country and Nigerians as she felt welcomed and understood the nuances of Nigerians.
Medical Park Group, she says has been rendering medical and healthcare service for many years and it is one of the biggest outfits in Turkey, as she notes that; ”We are a hospital group, the biggest private hospital group in Turkey, with 27 hospitals, we are in 30 cities and recently we have started branching out of Turkey and building hospitals outside.
”We have been growing in the last 20 years and getting a lot of international patients. Recently, we have a lot of demands from Nigerian patients as well as they have been contacting us and based on that we then decided to come to Nigeria.” It is that deliberate decision to set foot on Sub-Saharan Africa that made the group to sign on for Akwaaba in partnership with other medical groups in the country that made the trip to Nigeria for the event.
I love Nigerians, they are amazing people
Gun is fascinated by Nigerians as she declares that; This is my first time in Nigeria and it is not going to be my last. Inshallah, as we say in Turkey. (Told that Nigerians also use the phrase; Insallah, she smiles and burst into sudden laughter). ”I love the country, I love the people, they are amazing and hopefully, I will come back.” Besides the people, she also finds the climate welcoming as she says that; “I love the climate, it is wintry in Turkey almost. So, it is such a nice climate here.” She has also fallen in love with Nigerian cuisines especially Pepper Soup because of it spicy nature as she says in an excited tune that; ”I love the food,” however, she discloses that; ”But the highlight for me is the people, very warm people and they communicate to you well. I feel welcomed here, I didn’t feel like a foreigner.”
I’m impressed by Akwaaba
For her, Akwaaba was an instant success and certainly ticked the box for her and her team, as she notes with satisfaction that; ”I’m impressed, of course, I wasn’t expecting this but I have met a lot of professional people that are in this business who are interested in medical tourism business. For me, it was a very fruitful event. ”There were many doctors here as well, a lot of tourism companies and medical tourism companies. I also got to listen to the health commissioner (Lagos State Health Commissioner, Professor Akin Abayomi, who attended the event and presented an address on Lagos’ medical delivery project) and that was very nice as I got to ask him a question as well. “Overall, it was a very well organized exhibition.”
We are on an exploratory mission
Being the first time out in Nigeria to pitch for medical tourism, she says the group is in Nigeria to explore and offer Nigerians a different option from what they already know of medical tourism. ”We are just dipping our soles and we are exploring in terms of how best we can serve the Nigerian people. We are different from India in terms of our aim, which is not just to bring people from Nigeria to Turkey but we are looking at how we can seriously develop a relationship with the people and that is why we are a little bit more careful about it .
We are looking at building collaborations, hospital
Gun is very clear about their mission to Nigeria, which among others include exploring opportunities of partnership with the locals and building health care delivering facilities. ”To see if there is anything that we can do or invest in the country as well to build our health services,” she reveals. Further; So, we will be looking at building hospitals in Nigeria, we would be looking at collaboration opportunities with the universities and the government. Specialist training for nurses, doctors and technicians because that is what we do. We are happy now because everybody knows our name and knows about us. For anyone who will like to reach us, refer people or come to Turkey for treatment, Turkey has a very established legal system. We will like to visit Nigeria more for business.
Turkey is top rated for medical tourism
According to Gun, Turkey is already an established destination for medical tourism as it has 80 per cent of the market share in Europe, Middle East and Asia. ”If you talk of Europe, Middle East, Asia, and East Europe, Turkey’s share of the market is almost 80 per cent of people who are traveling out of their countries for medical tourism,” she tells you.
Sight on Africa market
However, when it comes to Africa, she says her country is just an emerging market for the region, as it is trying to have a foothold in the ever growing terrain. ”But in Sub-Saharan Africa, the tables are turned because Sub-Saharan Africa is new for us and it is a bit far away than Europe, Middle East and Asia,” she notes, adding that; It has been dominated by India in the last few years but since the COVID-19 pandemic India has struggled a lot and people have seen that their standard has dropped unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, India has quite amazing hospitals and amazing doctors but because it is saturated now it is so crowded. ”People have been complaining of the service that they are getting in India and they have been reaching out to me themselves, saying to me that they used to go to India but that they don’t want to go back.
Ease of access to Turkey
In the words of Gun, her country’s government has heard the cries of Africans and has created ease access for them to come to the country for medical tourism. ”They want to come to Turkey and Turkey government has had their voices and made a few changes in medical visas. So people from Africa countries in general can get a medical visa if it is legitimate medical treatment by applying to the hospital and getting an invitation from the hospital in two days,”discloses Gun of the new move by Turkish government to spread its dragnet to africa. ”Now it is easy to come to Turkey from Sub-Saharan Africa to get a treatment and come back. It is going to be like that in the future for tourists but for now it is only for medical tourism,” he further explains.
Turkey is home to a sizeable number of Nigerians
According to Gun, Nigerians are not new to Turkey as there is a sizeable number of Nigerians living in the country, with some studying while others are in pursuit of various endeavours. She is not able to put a figure to the numbers, as she admits that; ”I don’t have the numbers but it is a lot. ”There are many Nigerians living in Turkey and many that are students. These people have connections and they bring families. When I look at my data in the hospitals I see a lot of people with Nigeria passports that are treated by the hospitals.
Some of them are from Nigeria while some of them live in Turkey. However, it is a new market for us but we will like to grow it. I am opened to new ideas, new projects and people who to work with me or collaborate with me please reach out.”
Turkey is not the most expensive medical tourism destination
When it comes to the cost of accessing medical treatment in her country, she notes that Turkey is not the most expensive medical tourism destination, stating, however, that Turkey may be expensive more than India but the value that Turkey offers is nothing compared to neither India nor other destinations. ”We are more expensive than India in some aspects but we are cheaper than the United Arab Emirates (UAE), so we are in the middle. But when you compare the service level that you get in India it is beyond compare. You just have to come and see it. That is why in my speech I invited people to come and visit Turkey because you won’t understand it until you see it,” says Gun.
Turkish government is strict on organ harvesting
The issue of organ harvesting in Turkey, Gun says is treated with the utmost seriousness it deserved as the government only allows proven family members or relations to donate organs and no one else. Gun reveals that; ”I have heard of the issue of organ harvesting especially in India but Turkish government is very, very strict in that regard. It is very, very hard in Turkey to get a transparent from someone that is not a family member because you have to get it from a family member. ”Secondly, we carry out due process as we work directly with the embassies.
Anyone who applies to us for organ transplant we request for their documents and apply to their embassies in Turkey. ”For instance, if a Nigerian wants to get organ transplant I ask for the documents and send them to Nigeria embassy in Turkey. We have rejected many people who applied to us for not meeting the standard because for us it is not just about the money because we can’t risk the reputation of the country.
”So far so good Turkey has not had any issue with organ transplant because in terms of medical tourism we are heavily inspected by the government. The private hospitals are inspected by the ministry of health and so we are not allowed to do just what we want. ”We have to comply with European standard, so we are not like India.” Bring pepper along with you when coming to Turkey Of all the things in the world, one thing that Gun says any Nigerian coming to Turkey should bring along is pepper. Having experienced Nigerian cuisines, she notices Nigerians penchant for spicy foods hence her advice.
”Bring pepper with you because the food is not that spicy, you will need your spices,” she advices just as she states that there is nothing for Nigerians visiting Turkey to worry about as her people are hospitable and welcoming of Nigerians. Turkey people are welcoming and warm as Nigerians. I don’t think you will have any problem especially in big cities like Ankara and Istanbul. Because already there are huge population living there and the Turkish locals are used to interacting with Africans, it is a very international environment and you will feel welcome for sure,”discloses Gun.
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