Death toll from earthquake may touch 100,000

Dr. Vedat Bulut of Turkish Medical Association talks about how the situation in Turkey worsened because of lack of preparedness from the government’s end.

February 20, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch

Dr. Vedat Bulut of Turkish Medical Association explains the situation following the massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria, concerns over public health as well as the role of people’s movements and organizations in relief activities.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation:

Vedat Bulut: Starting from the sixth of February. So far, the government declared 36,000 people dead, and 108,000 people wounded. But we know underlying, there are maybe 10,000 or so people still waiting to be saved and their life under, how do you say, risk.

And because of the climate and weather conditions, they are nearly suffering from hypothermia and that they can die because of freezing and that they can die by freezing.

We know some data declared by the government is not correct. For instance, in Kahramanmaraş city, first, 18 cities were affected from this earthquake. I should say 18 cities. But four of them, demolished very much. Hatay, Kahramanmaraş, Malatya, and Adiyaman. Cities affected very badly, and that even health system collapsed over there. Some hospitals, so GPs, even we lost 93 physicians and surgeons, they died in earthquake. Then health service cannot be given correct, appropriate way in this region.

What is happening now? There are some difficulties like public health issues are important after that because people emigrated from the region to big cities or other [inaudible], they moved to homes of relatives. More than 5 million people emigrate to other sources.

It is another problem. And then in particular there are disadvantaged groups in this earthquake area, children, elderly people, women, and people with chronic disease, like a chronic renal failure, they need hemodialysis units. And then there is no hemodialysis units very much in this region because they were damaged. They should be transported to some other cities to receive their treatments. And we can say some temporarily habitant places should be built very quickly and then the sewage system should be built very well. Because some infectious diseases will start in this region, like cholera, like some others. We didn’t see now there is no this kind of diarrhea disease very much, but it is very near because if we do not take preventive measures in this area, if we do not protect people and then infectious disease will start. Like scabies, like some other diseases.

And then for this reason, medication is important. These areas should be supported by logistics, by pharmacy logistics, by some food and nutrition. Important is in particular for babies, because babies need nutrition and they need some baby and nutrition foods and then, logistic by government should be [inaubible] very quickly, to prevent some other public health problems. First 48 hours, there was no public institutions or public health organizations over there. And then just NGOs and people tried to help their relatives. Even we sent 300 volunteer doctors to our area from Turkish Medical Association.

They started working there because, as I said, in particular, four cities were affected very badly. Then there was no health service and then there was no mobile hospital use, firstly, at the beginning of disaster days. And then it is very crisis because people expect that this earthquake more than two years, three years even they had reports and they reported two years, three years ago, this area starting from Kahramanmaraş, it is the center of earthquake and then all people estimated very big earthquake will happen here and more than four or seven, and then but it happens, and then they don’t have mobile hospital use then seven or ten mobile hospitals, built just after three, four, five days. But it is not sufficient. Hospitals should be built.

There is another problem in Turkey, just to year 2016, Turkish military army forces had some mobile units, but they were closed by the government because of the, you know, there was a coup d’etat in 2016. And then because of this coup d’etat, military academy and medical academy was just closed by the government. And then it is one reason why we don’t have mobile hospital units in such a number to help to this area.

And then finally, from today we can see this mistake, because they are faster than other organizations, army faster than other civil organizations. And then all the professional organizations like medical association, like engineer’s association, like lawyer’s association, all people are trying to help to this area voluntarily and then they are going and they are helping people, I hope, and some experts estimate more than 100,000 people will die. Yes. Estimation of dead people at the end of the disaster, early 100,000 or over 100,000. And there is no conclusion by the government.

Peoples Health Dispatch: Is there something else that you can tell me about what the Turkish Medical Association has done since the earthquakes? So you have mentioned that the volunteers have gone to the areas that were hit most by the earthquake. Is there a plan to continue with that volunteering? And, you know, if there is something that other medical associations in Europe and beyond should do to support you in these efforts?

VB: So many international organizations arrived in this area. People from MSF, Doctors Without Borders and the Japanese Medical Association, Asian Doctors Medical Association and the Russian Medical Association, Dr. [inaudible]’s group. Many people came to there. [inaudible] came to this area to help people and then giving psycho social support. And then so many international organizations came.

We are thankful to them. And it is solidarity of mankind. We know that. And then everywhere throughout the world, this happens, these disaster. We will go through there and other people are coming to us and that this solidarity gives us [inaudible] and to people.

And we have got crisis management counter, including some expat people extraordinary health conditions, extraordinary health services, we have got one branch in Turkish Medical Association. They are really expert about disasters like big fires, earthquakes or floods. And then they are going to this area. And in some, how do you saw, complete health measures, they are just, how do you say, giving proposal to government.

But government imply this proposal or not, it is up to them.

PHD: So there is one more thing I wanted to ask, but it’s more informative than for the sake of the interview. So do do you get any information from Syria, what the conditions on the ground are there? Is there any, you know, exchange of information or any flow? Because from at least from the point of I mean, in Europe, we have had much less information coming from Syria than from Turkey. And that’s something that maybe you would be more informed about.

VB: Yes, we’ve received information from Syria, from our colleagues because we, as you know, there are border cities in Turkey and then many physicians are working on the other side and then working in this side. And then daily, at 11:00 every day, they have got a meeting with the grounds and then all the information coming updated. And then every day, afternoon time, at 3:30 PM, we have a bulletin declaring, how you say, new data with Syria press conference we have and we are dictating all new data to public sites and then to press. Then to receive, of course, information from Syria.

PHD: Thank you. So if you want to add something, please feel free to do so. 

VB: Thank you very much. Just. There is one problem in Turkey. Even medical education was cut by the government. And then medical education, they said, will be online for six months.

It is not an appropriate measure. And then because medical schools need education, we wrote this subject to high educational consultant universities and the medical students should go to their education and training. And just, I should say that. Thank you very much.

PHD: Thank you. That’s an important point. Good night and all my solidarity. Thank you so much for everything. 

VB: And thanks to Peoples Health Dispatch.

PHD: And we will continue covering. Thank you so much. Bye.