Turkey has become a destination for foreigners – especially those from the West – seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.
IVF, which requires both medication and surgery, is one of the most common treatments to help women become pregnant, and Turkish hospitals and clinics are targeting potential clients living abroad.
In the US, the cost of care is often prohibitively high and not always covered by health insurance. In Europe, women face waiting lists and must meet certain criteria in order to be covered for a limited number of cycles.
According to Fatih Celik, owner of Turkey for Health, an Istanbul-based health tourism service, some Turkish clinics offer all-inclusive packages for treatment that include the cost of a place to stay and transportation to and from the airport.
“Turkey is cheaper than Europe, but the quality of health services is almost the same,” Celik told The Media Line. “Foreign couples have started to come in increasing numbers.”
Celik added that most Turkish hospitals were certified by Joint Commission International, an agency that provides world-wide accreditation and certification for hospitals and other medical-sector providers.
According to Mustafa Said Yildiz, an internal auditor at Turkey’s Health Ministry, the country initially offered IVF treatment exclusively to citizens, but the number of clinics soon outpaced demand.
“The trend escalated the number of clinics, and some of clinics now serve medical tourists in the same proportion or more as Turkish citizens,” Yildiz told The Media Line.
Prof. Selman Laçin, director of the IVF Department at Medicana International Istanbul Hospital, said his clinic had performed some 1,000 IVF cycles over more than a decade, and that 15 to 20 percent of his patients were from abroad. He added that the clinic started using online advertising five years ago to target non-Turkish patients.
According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), the average cost of one cycle of IVF treatment in the US is between $10,000 and $15,000, depending on factors like insurance coverage and location. In addition, the necessary fertility drugs can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000.
Laçin agrees that the price of treatment “is the most important” factor driving foreigners to seek IVF in Turkey, where the cost of one round is around $2,000, plus $300 to $700 for the necessary medications. It is not uncommon for patients to require several rounds of treatment.
Besides the relatively low cost, Turkey is a popular tourist destination and is relatively inexpensive for Europeans.
“They can visit Turkey cheaply on an average salary in Europe. And they can add a treatment to the holiday,” Turkey for Health’s Celik said.
The Health Ministry’s Yildiz says that Turkey is a safe location for foreigners seeking medical help in the Middle East.
“After the September 11 attacks and US sanctions in the Arab world, Middle Eastern medical tourists especially prefer Turkey,” he told The Media Line.
Despite Turkey marketing itself as a destination for IVF treatment, not all women are welcome. Only married women are eligible for treatment, and the process requires the couple’s own eggs and sperm. Women who are single or gay are not legally permitted to undergo the procedure, and surrogacy is banned.
Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies.For more stories, visit themedialine.org.