More transparency needed for effective COVID-19 fight

More transparency needed for effective COVID-19 fight

Turkey recorded the first coronavirus case on March 11, much later than many European countries, although its eastern neighbor, Iran, has already been suffering from the outbreak since February.

The latest official figure provided by the Health Ministry indicates a gradual rise in the number of infected persons in Turkey. When this column was penned late afternoon on March 20, 359 were tested positive, while four were dead from the coronavirus.

Turkey’s approach in responding to the COVID-19 is somehow similar to Japan’s methodology. It has so far ruled out a complete lockdown and draconian measures as imposed in countries like China or Singapore.

And unlike South Korea, Turkey and Japan did not prefer to carry out coronavirus tests in massive numbers but decided to carry out these tests on those who have medical symptoms. Both Japan and Turkey are under criticism for not intensifying the tests. As of March 18, the number of those infected with COVID-19 in Japan is only 873, with 31 fatalities.

The strategy behind this is to keep the health system functioning properly by testing only those who have serious symptoms. Those who have mild symptoms, for example, should not occupy health facilities, but to keep the system running for those who are really in need. This is an example learned from the Italian experience.

The healthcare system in Italy has reportedly failed to distinguish which patients need intensive care and which patients could be sent home to be treated. Doctors and health personnel were left alone in making the hardest decisions which at the end have paralyzed the whole structure.

This was one of the points made by Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca in his briefing to parliament on March 19. “Two things are dearly essential in this fight. A strong, functioning health system and leadership,” he stressed.

Despite problems, it would be fair to highlight the operational capacity of the healthcare system in Turkey as well as the professionalism of the Turkish health personnel, particularly medical doctors. Turkey has built a good reputation as a reliable spot in global health tourism in recent years. However, fighting a pandemic surely requires more than that.

Two things seem to be crucial: Transparency and cooperation. Let’s begin with the latter. The government’s motto is “the outbreak is global, the cure is national.” It’s highly true that all nations will use their own tools and ways to fight it, but intense cooperation is needed to draw lessons from other country’s experiences as well. Turkey is in contact with a number of European countries and others for the supply of medical equipment and it should continue doing so.

This cooperation should also include national civil society organizations, like the Turkish Medical Association, the Turkish Society of Intensive Care, trade unions for the medical personnel as well as private health institutions. At the end of the day, this is a public health concern and should include all relevant bodies.

Transparency and information sharing are also very important. The government should provide detailed information about the tests and their results on a regular basis. It should outline statistics about the gender, age groups and socio-economic background of those who are infected as well as their short medical histories for a better clinical study. This should also display the geographical distribution of the coronavirus-infected people.

Any information about the pandemic would be very important in fighting this novel coronavirus. Transparency would also avoid widespread concerns and speculations on whether the government is hiding the real picture, and, therefore, strengthen nationwide efforts to curb the spread of the virus.