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International Year of Cooperatives

Healing pharmacies

As the International Year of Cooperatives draws to an end, ILO News looks at how cooperatives in Turkey offer customers easier and safer access to medicines.

Feature | 12 November 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) –Fatih Başer is a 35 year-old man working as a translator in Istanbul. As is often the case in Turkey, buying affordable and reliable drugs has not always been easy for him.

“In our country, there’s a risk that the products sold on the markets are fake,” he told ILO News. “The price of medicines and other products also has been rising, which only makes matters worse”.

Başer has recently found a small pharmacy that offers quality products at a decent price. The store is part of a network of small pharmacies that is helping to change the drug industry in Turkey in a big way.

“I have been buying my drugs here for the last 5 years mainly because I trust the pharmacist. If I come to the cooperative pharmacy, I know that I will get the original product, not a fake, still at an affordable price,” he says.

Abdullah Özyiğit,head of the Association of Pharmacists Cooperatives in Turkey
Abdullah Özyiğit is the head of the Association of All Pharmacists Cooperatives in Turkey. The 45 year-old pharmacist from the Mediterranean city of Mersin is proud of what has been achieved since the association was created in 1989.

“We now have a network of 13,000 pharmacies all over Turkey providing jobs to 40,000 people. Our reputation comes from the quality of our service, especially when delivering drugs that are urgently needed,” he explains.

“Also, our pharmacists are all trained professionals so people appreciate the fact that they can ask for reliable advice and avoid buying products that can be very dangerous for their health.”

A changing business for changing times

At the end of the 70’s in Turkey, drug supplies depended largely on imports. Wholesalers only wanted to do business with pharmacies that could pay in foreign currency, which was in short supply. “Many pharmacies went out of business at that time,”Özyiğit recalls.

That’s what led to the creation of the Association of Pharmacists’ Cooperatives. Now small pharmacies can team up with others and benefit from the collective purchasing power of cooperatives.

Because cooperatives are not driven by profit, some of the earnings are redistributed to the employees, who receive a social benefits package that is much better than what employees generally get in Turkey.

The association and its cooperatives were put to the test during the global economic crisis, which hit Turkey quite hard, but they fared comparatively well.

“We were affected by the crisis since customers were buying less, but we managed to keep our share of the market,partly because we provided financial management training to our members to help them stay in business… In some cases, we also suggested that they sell other types of products in order to stay open,”Özyiğitsays.

The cooperatives werealso able to sharply reduce their members’ fuel costs by negotiating significant discounts on fuel. Again, this was possible thanks to their collective purchasing power.

More can be done

Özyiğit believes that cooperatives need to be better known in Turkey. ”Cooperatives are a very good model that should be further promoted by our government,” he says. “If this happens, then cooperatives could further develop in other areas such as agriculture, health, education and insurance.” There are nearly 85,000 cooperatives in Turkey with 8.1 million members.

“The example of pharmacists’ cooperatives in Turkey is a story that could give ideas to other countries which still struggle to provide their population with safe and affordable drugs,” says Simel Esim, head of the ILO’s Cooperative Branch.

“The International Year of Cooperatives that will end on November 19-20 in New York has provided the world with an opportunity to highlight the work done by millions of cooperatives. They are institutions that can bring out the best in humans. In these times of crisis and change,they can make a huge difference in people’s lives”, she concludes.

ILO guidelines to promote cooperatives
  • ILO Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives (2002) provides guidance on cooperative policy and legislation stressing the need for a level playing field for cooperatives and other enterprises. Over 70 countries have revised their cooperative legislation since the adoption of the Recommendation ten years ago, in line with its provisions.
  • The second edition of the “Guidelines for Cooperative Legislation” is a useful tool to promote cooperatives as it is based on the latest available information on legislations. The third edition will be available shortly.

Tags: cooperatives

Regions and countries covered: Turkey

Unit responsible: Department of Communication (DCOMM)

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