HOW TURKEY OVERCAME THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Dr Haroon Muzaffar Buttar

The writer is Assistant Professor at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University

Across the globe health systems, economies and social structures are reeling under the gargantuan impact of a novel pathogen. In cricket terminology, currently almost all countries are the pathogen COVID-19’s playground and the pathogen is playing a destructive innings against the governments’ capacity, capability and effectiveness to bowl it out. However, very few governments exhibit stellar performance in this gladiatorial contest between humans and the pathogen. Turkey is one such country, which is exhibiting a stellar performance under the captaincy of Mr. Erdogan in this gladiatorial contest.

When considering the languid performance of the world’s most advanced countries which are considered to be best equipped to cope with such pandemics, governments and people have difficulty to comprehend the relative success of Turkey. The most vital number that tells Turkish success is Turkey’s lower fatality rate. Turkey’s fatality rate is 2.8% of total cases which is much lower than the comparable European countries and USA. The corresponding statistic for the France is 15.5%; Italy, 14.3%; UK, 14.1%; Spain, 12.2%; and USA, 5.6%. This success is result of a coherent, comprehensive and centrally coordinated strategy of Turkish government.

Contrary to a reactive response to the pandemic Turkey used a proactive strategy. In April 2019, Turkish government laid out action and guidelines to be followed for fighting a pandemic by publishing a 229-page plan. This report laid the groundwork for how to respond and overcome a pandemic months before the first reported case of COVID-19 in China and this is the reason that Turkey was well-prepared for the pandemic before it entered into its borders. Being proactive in its strategy Turkey was among the first European countries to stop flights to and from China on February 3. Similarly, Turkey applied strict control and checks at its border with Iran where pandemic spread at a devastating speed and made Iran the second epicentre of the pandemic. Due to these measures Turkey was able to stave off the inevitable entry of COVID-19 into its borders for a reasonable time and win enough time to lay the groundwork to combat COVID-19 before the first reported case of Coronavirus in Turkey on March 13.

Turkey’s filiation method to break the chain of Coronavirus spread by finding and treating the persons who were in contact with the infected person receives the international attention, recognition and praise Turkey’s real test of skills, capacity and capability started when the pathogen entered into their playground. Turkey understood that the best strategy against the invisible opponent is prevention and contrary to many Western countries introduced physical distancing measures immediately after the first confirmed case of Coronavirus. Universities and schools were closed nationwide on March 13 and they switched to synchronous and asynchronous learning. Likewise, on March 17, large public events and social gatherings including congregational prayers at mosques were suspended; nonessential businesses, venues and public services were shuttered. International land, maritime and air borders were closed with the exception for returning residents and citizens. In order to prevent the fast transmission of Coronavirus government eventually ban the travel to and from the country’s 31 big cities, exempting goods movement.

After analysing the initial data Turkish public health officials concluded that in this gladiatorial contest two players of their team needs to stay in pavilion (at homes)-the young-old. It’s realized that old people are most vulnerable against the invisible opponent. While on the other hand, young people are unknowingly super spreaders of the Coronavirus. Therefore, government imposed the ban on the outdoor movement of people over the age of sixty-five and people under the age of twenty-one. Moreover, government imposed weekend curfew on a regular basis.

All these preventive measures contributed towards the controlled and planned spread of Coronavirus as anticipated by Turkey.

However, the star performer of the team Turkey is Health Ministry. At the very beginning of pandemic Turkish government constituted Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, which is composed of leading university professors and medical experts. The board works under the auspices of Health Ministry and works out guidelines for the treatment by medicals and measures to be followed by the public, and updates them in context of the disease’s course in the country. The board issued a protocol about Coronavirus diagnosis and treatment that is followed by all hospitals nationwide. This protocol proved to be the cornerstone for the Coronavirus treatment success story of Turkey. The protocol provides the uniformity to the process of diagnose and treatment of Coronavirus and give the government a clear and comprehensive picture of COVID-19 across the country. Additionally, the board gives the recommendations to the government in the light of these recommendations government make and implement policies. This consultative, central and coordinated policymaking and implementation strategy of Turkish government like South Korea and Japan highlighted the importance of a strong and well-coordinated mechanism of decision-making at national level during the situations like pandemic. The countries, like USA and Pakistan, who lack this strong decision-making and implementation mechanism during the pandemic struggles to formulate a coherent response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The backbone of the Turkish endeavours against the pandemic is the capacity and capability of its health infrastructure. Unlike many other countries COVID-19 pandemic did not overburden the Turkey’s healthcare system. Not a single patient was rejected by the hospital. For this credit goes to Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Since it came to power it bring reforms and changes of revolutionary nature in Turkey’s healthcare system. Government increased spending in the healthcare system and made it possible that common people can get access to the best health facilities. Particularly, the capacity of health system is enhanced by the newly built state-of-art “city hospitals”, a brainchild project of President Erdogan. These city hospitals are large enough to host significant numbers of patients at the same time. The enhanced capacity of healthcare system makes Turkey one of the top countries in Europe in the number of ICU beds per capita. The number of high ICU beds proved to be pivotal during the pandemic. The low capacity of ICU beds in many countries leads to a highly dreadful practice of to whom to save and to who let die. Turkey’s filiation method to break the chain of Coronavirus spread by finding and treating the persons who were in contact with the infected person receives the international attention, recognition and praise. Members of the filiation teams work like detectives to identify and reach the persons who contacted an infected person and then applied the required procedures.

Another bright aspect of Turkish healthcare infrastructure is its health insurance system. Turkey’s mandatory universal health insurance system enables citizens to benefit from treatment and ICU services free of charge in the hospitals linked to social security. The health insurance system objective is to provide affordable health insurance to all citizens against the payment of a certain amount depending on income and number of house members. Some citizens and those younger than 18 are covered by the state. Another front on which most of the countries caught off-guard during the pandemic is the availability of facemasks and disinfectants. While Europe was engaged in mask wars Turkey was producing enough facemasks to export. Turkey’s vocational education schools play a significant role in the production of facemasks and disinfectants.

Social and demographic characteristics of Turkish society are significant contributors towards the success against COVID-19. In most developed countries elderly people are taken care at nursing homes and data shows that in many western countries most of deaths took place in nursing homes. However, due to strong respect for elderly people and closely knitted family value system elderly people are taken care at home, which lowered the infection rate and death rate of elderly people. If strong family networks help the Turkey to lower the death rate the high ratio of its young population appears to have played a crucial role in the low fatality rate.In a nutshell, Turkey’s current success against COVID-19 is the result of a heroic innings played by team Turkey (80 Million Turkish people) under the inspiring captaincy of President Erdogan. Pakistan can learn a lot from the Turkey’s experience of fight against COVID-19, particularly, about the coherent, coordinated and robust decision-making and policy implementation mechanisms at national level, which are at the heart of a successful strategy in fight against COVID-19.

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