29 May 2012Turkey hosted a meeting of the Steering Committee of the Black Sea Countries Coalition on Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention in Istanbul on Wednesday (May 23rd). Initiated and chaired by the first lady of Georgia three years ago, the Coalition includes representatives from Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Ukraine who discussed domestic concerns and initiated potential regional co-operation in some priority areas.
Among those countries, Turkey is perceived as a model in many respects, especially since embarking on an ambitious programme to combat all types of cancer. Turkey ranks sixth in Europe in terms of allocating financial resources to fight cancer.
Authorities emphasise that Turkey cannot achieve its economic targets unless it becomes successful in cancer prevention and treatment.
"By 2023, we are aiming to progressively reach a 5% decrease in cancer mortality throughout the country," Dr Murat Gultekin, director of the Cancer Control Department at Turkey's Ministry of Health, told SES Türkiye.
He emphasised that if Turkey aims to be among the top ten economies by 2023, it should also consider strengthening its efforts to reduce cancer incidences.
"It is estimated that by 2030, the overall money spent on cancer diseases will be 10 billion euros. In addition to this, it has significant impacts on human capital. So if we want to assert ourselves as a powerful economy, we should definitely take some proactive steps to improve our demographic assets," Gultekin argued.
In Turkey, where 2012 has been declared the "Year of Women's Cancers," there is now a screening centre in every province throughout the country. "Currently there are 124 screening centres, and we want to double this number by 2025," Gultekin said.
Between 2011-2023, the health ministry will establish six health campuses in Turkey, while the number of oncology experts will be increased by 250 to 1,250.
During Wednesday's meeting, several representatives of the Black Sea region expressed interest in co-operating with Turkey in specific priority areas.
"The cancer control strategy and relevant achievements in Turkey seem extremely powerful, competent and proactive," First Lady of Georgia Sandra Elisabeth Roelofs told SES Türkiye.
"We consider such efforts as a model, especially in terms of the high priority the country accords to research and development. Turkey looks ahead to the future and prioritises the research and development aspect to get better results," she added.
In Turkey, the state covers all costs related to oncology screening and cancer treatment. "The only thing that you need is to be a Turkish citizen," Gultekin said.
Providing coverage is no easy task, given a population of 80 million spread across diverse geography. "The main problem in all cancer-fighting strategies is how to sustain them. The current government has been assuming an obvious political advocacy mission to strengthen public demand for precautions against cancer," Turkan Dagoglu, an AK Party deputy with a medical background, told SES Türkiye.
Dagoglu underlined, however, that people should be made aware of the public facilities available to them, through women's health centres established by the state. They offer diagnostic opportunities free of charge.
The Cancer Control Department is also planning to increase the number of mobile mammography units throughout rural areas in order to raise awareness and make this service more accessible.
Rather than opting for a top-down approach, the ministry of health is working alongside civil society groups, including NGOs, to raise awareness. "Each year, the minister meets twice with all the representatives of the NGOs related to cancer and we are developing joint projects with them," Gultekin explained.
"For instance, on April 24th, we organised a campaign called 'Take Action Against Colon Cancer!' and volunteers climbed to the top of the highest building in Istanbul, the Sapphire Building," he added.