Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe recently tweeted that Turkey’s dramatic increase in the virus over the past week was alarming. So far, 60 percent of the coronarivus cases nationwide were reported in Istanbul. While scientists and doctors in Turkey are also alarmed, the authorities seem content.
According to the Health Minister, Fahrettin Koca, Turkey’s health system is in perfect shape and all the necessary preventions, steps are being taken in a timely and sound manner. President Erdoğan announced two new hospitals would be built within 45 days in Istanbul. Yet many of doctors and professors I spoke to, express deep concerns. Most of these critical voices, among them geneticists, molecular biologists, surgeons, epidemologists live and work in Europe or in the U.S. Though their interviews only appear in “alternative” or “critical” media, they have gained much popularity on Twitter since the outbreak of the pandemic.
But there are also some brave physicians in Turkey who warm of shortcomings and urge the government to adopt the necessary measures. Back in February, before the coronavirus hit Turkey, the Turkish Physicians Organization (TTB) – the country’s largest professional association – had already issued numerous statements regarding the pandemic. Since the TTB is generally critical of the AKP’s health policies, they were not taken seriously and were castigated as “political.”
The Ministry of Health has formed its own Science Committee dedicated to the coronavirus, but only once did it meet with members of the TBB and other medical civil society groups. Prof. Sinan Adıyaman, the head of the TBB, told me that with a majority of the cases in Istanbul, the megacity is in a critical state.
“The Ministry announced that 62 pecent of the intensive care units are already full. This is the figure for Turkey overall, as the authorities do not provide detailed information on different cities. We know from our organization that Istanbul’s ICU capacity has reached 80 percent.”
But what about the new hospitals to be built?
While Prof. Adıyaman said this was good news, he warned that 45 days was precious time to be wasting in the midst of the pandemic. The professor pointed out that there at least 6 public hospitals in Istanbul that have been closed down.
“Hospital buildings in the neighborhoods of Koşuyolu, Samatya, Haseki, Okmeydanı across Istanbul have been partly emptied. Some still have equipment. These could easily be transformed into functioning hospitals, with minimal spending. Many COVID-19 patients can be treated and quarantined there. At the moment, they are sent home, which creates a greater risk.”
Many public hospitals have been shut down, not only in Istanbul, but all over Turkey. Some have only been partly emptied. In Ankara, a platform called HAP (Hastanemi Açın Platformu- Open My Hospital Platform) urges the AKP regime to reopen them during the pandemic.
One might wonder why they were closed in the first place. Well, that has to do with Erdoğan’s health policy. The government has sought to close down old public hospitals and replace them with new, huge buildings, referred to as “City Hospitals” and foster investments.
Prof. Kayıhan Pala, who wrote a book entitled “The public-private partnership in Health-City Hospitals,” recently gave an interview to Deutsche Welle in which he said that these old hospitals needed to be reopened immediatly. “The City hospitals, that were built on huge budgets and are located outside cities, don’t have the capacity to deal with the pandemic. Meanwhile, undergrad doctors and retired health workers should be called to join the health force,” he told DW.
City hospitals and their function were a source of debate well before the coronavirus pandemic, but the regime was adamant in closing down old hospitals. Now, they are much needed and can save lives. By reopening old hospitals, the regime could effectively boost its health policy. By insisting on building new, huge hospitals, it not only wastes resources, but lives.