Anti-government demonstrations in Turkey over unpaid $700 million worth of medical equipment

The Turkish government's unpaid bills amount to $709 million and threaten to affect the country's health services and employees of health sector companies
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REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS  -   Demonstration in Turkey

Turkey saw a day of demonstrations on Thursday demanding payment of unpaid invoices to medical manufacturers. Hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of Turkey, denouncing the debt of more than 6 billion liras (709 million dollars) owed by state hospitals and the government to medical equipment companies and drug manufacturers.

In a symbolic act, the protesters threw the keys to their offices to the ground. In doing so, they challenged the authorities to manage their unpaid and growing debt.

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AFP/ BULENT KILIC - Health workers in Istanbul, Turkey

"We are asking the health minister to take these keys and run our businesses if he can, under the current circumstances," said Metin Demir, head of the Turkish Health Industry Employers' Association.

State-run hospitals and facilities proposed a debt rescheduling by applying discounts in 2018 and 2020, a debt amounting to more than 19 billion liras that they owe to manufacturers and medical companies.

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PHOTO/IBRAHIM LALEI vía AP - Health care workers attend to a patient at Akdeniz University Hospital in Antalya, Turkey.

"We were forced twice to accept discounts of 27 and 25 per cent, with the promise that all companies that accepted will be paid in due time," Demir said.

The head of the Turkish Health Industry Employers' Association warned of the supply problems that the debts could cause in the supply chain, and as a consequence, for the country's health services and the companies' employees. At the moment,about 250,000 workers have suffered the repercussions of the non-payments, according to Reuters.

"The sector has been left without pay and is desperate despite having agreed to two discounts in the last three years," Demir stressed during demonstrations in Ankara.

 Uncertain future

The issue is also affecting the international landscape, with US Ambassador David Satterfield stating that Turkey is more than $2 billion in debt to pharmaceutical companies around the world, including US companies, which are threatening to leave the country if the non-payment situation continues to drag on.

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PHOTO/AFP - Members of a medical team attend to a patient in one of the intensive care units for COVID-19 patients at Akdeniz University Hospital in Antalya, Turkey.

The depreciation of the Turkish lira threatens to worsen the problem as medical costs continue to rise since 2018, while medical equipment needs have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ankara government, short of solutions, has proposed discounts to manufacturers, to which Demir said suppliers' efforts could push the sector to the brink of bankruptcy.