Covid-19 arrived in Turkey late on March 11, but it soon left a mark in every corner of the country. In one month, the epidemic struck 81 Turkish states.
The epidemic in Turkey expanded with rapid growth that was among the worst in the world – worse than China and Britain. Fear of the death toll increased dramatically, which could turn Turkey into a new Italy, as Italy was at that time the most affected in Europe.
Three months after the first cases were recorded, Turkey has not experienced a dramatic deterioration yet, even though it has not imposed a total closure.
To date, the death toll from corona has reached 4,397. The number does not convince some doctors here, as they believe that the true number may be doubled, because Turkey only counts those who are tested for HIV. Either way, given the horrific epidemic records, the death toll is low relative to the population of 83 million.
Experts warn against drawing hasty conclusions and comparing statistics while countries are still burying their dead. However, the professor of virology at the University of Kent, Jeremy Rusman, believes that “Turkey has managed to avert a far greater catastrophe.”
“Turkey belongs to the category of countries that have responded quickly to the crisis, through tests, tracing and isolating the injured, and imposing restrictions on movement,” Rossmann told the BBC. He notes that “a small group of countries have taken very effective measures to limit the spread of the virus.”
With the spread of the epidemic, the authorities have cut essential parts of daily life activities, preventing visits to cafes, shopping in crowded markets, and mass prayers in mosques.
Imprisonment was imposed on persons under the age of twenty and over sixty-five. A week’s curfew was also implemented, and major cities were closed.
Istanbul was the epicenter, and with the imposition of the closure there, the city lost its rhythm, like a heart that missed one of its beats.
How did Turkey track the virus?
The authorities gradually began to lift the restrictions, but Doctor Malik Nur Aslan remains on alert.
Aslan is the director of public health in the Fatih Directorate, one of the most crowded residential areas in old Istanbul. The attending physician leads a team to track communication with the injured in Turkey. There are 6,000 similar teams across the country.
“We feel we are at war,” she says. “People forget to go home. We say ‘Okay, you have completed eight hours of work’, but they don’t care to go home, because they know that it is their duty to end work, so that the virus does not spread to other areas.”
Doctor Aslan says she started tracking the virus from day one (March 11), armed with decades of experience in tracking measles.
“The plans we are implementing today were ready, all we had to do was implement them.”
We join two young doctors on the narrow streets of Al-Fateh, equipped with a tracking app. They head to an apartment in a housing complex, where two female companions undergo a home stone, after their friend is diagnosed with the disease.
The 20 young women stood at the entrance to their lips, wearing two masks, one of them veiled. Take the Covid-19 test, and you will get the result within 24 hours. Moderately severe symptoms began to appear on them. Nazadhi Demeralp, 29, says she is grateful for the quick response.
“We are following foreign news, and when we first heard about the virus, we were afraid. But Turkey’s response was faster than we expected, faster than Europe and the United States.”
Controversy over the treatment protocol
Turkey is now able to share public health lessons, according to the head of the World Health Organization in Turkey, Doctor Irshad Sheikh.
“Initially, we were worried,” he told the BBC. “We were monitoring 3,500 positive cases per day. But the tests were working, and people didn’t have to wait five or six days to get the result.” He also refers to the favor of quarantine, isolation, and tracking of movement, but says it is too early to evaluate Turkey’s protocol for treating patients.
What is controversial in the Turkish protocol is that among its fixed stations is the anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine. US President Donald Trump has promoted this drug in abundance, but has been vehemently rejected in the latest global research.
The World Health Organization has suspended trials of the drug temporarily as part of its testing of possible treatments for the virus. This came after the publication of a study in the journal “The Lancet”, which indicates that hydroxychloroquine causes heart problems for Covid-19 patients, and may harm more than it benefits.
We were allowed to enter a hospital that was part of the standard treatment for thousands of patients: the government hospital, “Martyr Dr. Ilhan Warang”, which was established two years ago, and is one of the most recent in the field. The hospital is a bright and broad front in the battle against the virus.
The chief doctor at the hospital, Noordin Yde, says the secret to using hydroxychloroquine is to introduce the patient early. “Other countries use this drug very late, especially the United States. In our case, we use it only at the beginning. We don’t feel hesitation about this medicine. We think it is useful because we see the result.”
On a tour of the hospital parts, we used to add or remove one of the layers of prevention as we progressed, the doctor explains to us Turkey’s approach to “stepping forward on the virus”, through early treatment. They resort to hydroxychloroquine and other drugs, along with plasma and oxygen with a high density.
Doctor Yate says he is proud of the low death rate in the hospital, as it has not exceeded 1 percent, and the empty intensive care family. They try to keep patients out of intensive care and away from respirators.
We meet Hakim Sukuk, 40, who left intensive care and prepares to return home, and he appears full of gratitude.
Sitting in his bed, he tells us: “Everyone took care of me in an excellent way, as if I was in my mother’s arms.”
The battle is not over
The Turkish government’s response to the epidemic has not been fully satisfied by the Turkish Doctors Syndicate. For the union, there were several mistakes in Ankara, where the response to the pandemic was “insufficient”, especially as the borders were left open for a longer period of time.
Despite this, the World Health Organization owes Turkey some credit. “It is a very recent epidemic, and we were expecting a lot of people to get sick. Something is going well,” said its representative in the country, Dr. Irshad Sheikh.
Turkey has some advantages in its war against Covid-19, among which is the low average age of its citizens and a large number of intensive care beds. Despite this, new cases continue to be recorded, with an average of one thousand cases per day.
While Turkey is seen as a success story in the war against the epidemic, much caution is still required, as the story has not yet come to an end.