Turkey's investment in health pays off amid pandemic: Communications director
Thanks to Turkey’s reforms and investments in the health sector, many people benefited from the health services during the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to the country’s communications director.
“The Turkish government provides free universal health care, and made early investments in its health care infrastructure that are paying off now, Fahrettin Altun said in an article he penned for The Washington Times.
In the op-ed titled Turkish Government's Strategy Turns the Tide of COVID-19, Altun said: “Our efforts are turning the tide: The daily growth of new cases recently dropped to the slowest pace since the first case was confirmed in early March, and daily hospital discharges are now far exceeding new cases.”
Health investments in Turkey
Altun said some continue to criticize Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claiming that he could not handle the crisis, and he provided some facts proving the opposite.
“The reforms and investments we have made make health care more accessible to more people. Turkey has invested in its health workforce and built new hospitals, with plans underway predating COVID-19 for 10 new hospitals across Turkey's densest urban centers,” Altun noted.
He said that as a result of all the investments, Turkey has been safe from the “overwhelming pressure” on its health system, while it “hobbled other countries.”
Turkey also ranked among the top five nations worldwide in terms of the number of coronavirus testing, he stressed.
“We recognize that means our infection numbers will be high for a period of time - because there is a direct correlation between more testing and more positive cases, that’s no big secret - but there’s also no responsible way to get this under control without mass testing,” Altun said.
Turning to the financial support for businesses and households -- which are among the most affected by the outbreak as people started to stay home to curb the stem of the virus -- he said the Turkish government “postponed debt payments and reduced taxes, and is providing 36-month fixed interest rate loans with deferred payment to all businesses.”
The government also allocated a large amount -- 100 billion Turkish liras ($14.7 billion) -- to support businesses. It also provided direct financial assistance to families in need.
“ [...] we are also planning to make it easier for the sovereign wealth fund [Turkey Wealth Fund] to take over private companies in distress. The critics conveniently ignore those facts,” he noted.
He went on to say that a free universal health care is also provided for the people, “which the critics often ignore”.
“This is crucial if we want to successfully fight back against the virus, and many experts agree: Countries without it are at a severe disadvantage,” he said.
Altun stressed that Turkey is one of the few countries in the region that offers free-of-charge health service to its nation, and it was possible thanks to the “significant time” that has been spent in reforming the system since 2003.
“As the New England Journal of Medicine noted, we embarked on an ‘ambitious health system reform to overcome major inequities in health outcomes and to protect all citizens against financial risk. Within 10 years, it had achieved universal health coverage and notable improvements in outcomes and quality’,” Altun said, sharing an example from the journal’s article.
Altun said Turkey perceives social distancing measures “seriously,” and he mentioned many precautions taken in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“We halted all international flights, restricted domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes, and suspended mass prayers,” he said, adding that the country has been imposing weekend lockdowns in larger cities.
Turkey started to impose weekend curfews in its larger cities on April 11-12. The restrictions have been sometimes extended to four days when the weekend and public holidays come one after another.
“We were one of the first countries to limit and eventually ban travel with nations impacted by the virus. We started screening passengers immediately for symptoms right at the airports before halting all travel later on,” he said.
Altun said Turkey has been indiscriminate against people based on their country of origin while protecting them from the disease.
“We brought back many Syrian refugees who were waiting at the border with Greece in order to prevent an outbreak among them. We took precautions in the refugee camps and among the IDPs [internally displaced person] in northern Syria,” he said, referring to the thousands of Syrian asylum seekers who rushed to Turkey’s northwestern border gates as Ankara announced it opened the gates.
Ankara’s move came after the EU failed to share the burden of millions of refugees that Turkey hosted for years with mostly its own resources, since a civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.
No country should be left alone
“Despite fighting the coronavirus with strained resources, we also recognize that it should be a collective effort and no country should be left alone in this fight,” Altun said, adding that Turkey has sent medical supplies to many countries, including the worst-hit countries Italy and Spain, as well as Iran, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
Touching Turkey’s efforts for protecting the elderly -- who are among the most vulnerable groups to the disease -- he said Ankara announced movement restrictions for the members of the society aged 65 and above.
He also said as they were not able to come out of their homes in line with the restrictions, the government also made sure that all their needs were met by local authorities.
Turkish Interior Ministry launched a social support group -- Vefa Support Group -- to meet the needs of the people who were required to stay home during the lockdown days.
“We did not forget about our old and the young,” he said, adding even stray animals have been taken care and their needs met.
“All this was guided by our President Erdoğan’s clear instructions and continuous emphasis on a human-centric and humane approach in meeting this challenge,” Altun stressed.
Governments should be ready for scrutiny in crisis
“Examining Turkey’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is important, and Turkey’s ability to manage this in the right way matters,” he said.
Highlighting Turkey’s geographical features, Altun said the country is the crossing point between Europe and Asia.
“[…] it borders Iran - where dire concerns over the virus remain - and Istanbul is home to one of the world’s largest, most trafficked airports,” Altun added.
“All governments ought to be ready for scrutiny now and over many years to come over their handling of the crisis.
“It is important to start thinking about what went wrong and what can be done to prevent such an outbreak in the future,” he concluded.