Syrian medical centers in Istanbul receive only “emergency cases”
Enab Baladi- Khawla Hefzi
Some medical centers which receive Syrian patients in Istanbul have been apologizing for not being able to deal with “non-emergency cases” after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Turkey, other medical centers have reduced their working hours or laid off some of their medical staff, while others closed down entirely.
It became difficult for Syrians living in Istanbul to find a medical center where they can receive the treatment they need since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey and amid the implemented precautionary measures.
Reem Dawoud, a Syrian lady resident of Istanbul, told Enab Baladi that she could not secure a checkup appointment for her son in an ophthalmology clinic in one of the medical centers which responded to her request by prescribing a sterile eye drops over the phone.
As for Muhammad al-Mazloum, a Syrian also living in Istanbul, said to Enab Baladi that he suffers from a fungal infection in his feet, usually called as (Athlete’s foot), and when he asked for an appointment from one of the close medical centers to where he lives, his request was rejected by the center’s supervisor for not being “an emergency case.”
However, Aisha Mustapha, who could vaccinate her baby, told Enab Baladi, that waiting seats had been removed completely, and there were a limited number of medical workers that day, along with an obvious decrease in the numbers of patients who used to attend that particular medical center previously.
The number of Syrians living in Turkey exceeded 3,585,000 persons, where 496,561 of them reside in Istanbul, according to released figures by the Turkish General Directorate of Immigration Management.
Syrian refugees living in Istanbul are mainly concentrated in areas like Fatih, Esenyurt, Avcılar districts, where many medical centers were opened to facilitate access to medical services.
Most Syrians resort to private Syrian medical centers, licensed or unlicensed ones in Turkey, due to their handling ease in the light of the absence of language barriers and prescheduled appointments.
The director of “al-Sham for Specialized Clinics Group,” Dr. Muhammad Khebi, said that the number of appointments and working hours has decreased following the virus outbreak, especially with the advent of Ramadan.
For his part, the head of “al-Nour” medical center, Dr. Mahdi Dawoud, confirmed to Enab Baladi, that working hours did not change, but increased on certain days instead to compensate curfew days.
Meanwhile, “Roody,” a medical and aesthetic center located in the Fatih area, closed down completely. Asking them about the reasons behind this decision, the center told Enab Baladi that the closure is for the interest and safety of their patients, and it will continue until further notice.
“Al-Sham Clinics” located in Bağcılar area in Istanbul, stopped providing medical services during curfew days, and operate normally in regular ones despite the “resignation” of some doctors.
According to Khebi, some doctors made individual decisions to stop working to mitigate the crowding in those centers, like an ophthalmologist taking into account that most of his patients are “non-emergency cases” as well as a cardiologist who received a few emergency cases lately.
“Al-Sham clinics” front desk advises patients on the phone not to come to the center except in cases of extreme necessity. Upon arrival, patients are referred to a specialist doctor. Such a measure was undertaken to reduce the number of attendees as much as possible, aiming at limiting the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Khebi.
The head of the “al-Nour” medical center located in Fatih district, Dr. Dawoud, reinforced the previous idea by calling patients not to attend medical centers unless absolutely necessary.
According to Dawoud, “the main problem resides in convincing people not to come when they think that their cases are urgent even when being simple.”
He added that “we receive all cases but, we do not treat coronavirus infections, as we diagnose their cases and refer them to government centers and hospitals instead. “
Meanwhile, medical centers have reduced the number of waiting seats, obliged attendees to wear masks and sterilized medical devices after every examination.
Since March 2017, the Turkish government started providing training programs to Syrian doctors and nurses to work under its healthcare system and prepare them to provide medical services for Syrian refugees inside Turkey.
Many medical centers benefit from the Turkish government’s support and provide their medical services free of charge; however, attending some of them necessitate obtaining appointments and temporary protection identification document known as “kimlik” granted by the same province, such is the case with Migrant Health Centers, called in Turkish (Göçmen Sağlık Merkezleri).
The Turkish Ministry of Health decided to adopt a shift system for its medical staff working in “Migrant Health Centers,” with only half of the staff working every day, according to Dr. Manar Jumaa, a general practitioner in one of these centers in Istanbul.
Dr. Jumaa added that the center’s working hours start from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and that the center receives all cases on working days, including cases suspected of COVID-19 infection.
Some Syrian medical centers provide job opportunities for Syrian doctors unable to obtain equivalence and graduation recognition for their diplomas in Turkey, which prevents them from working in Turkish hospitals or opening their own clinics.
Nevertheless, some Syrian doctors have opened their medical facilities even with their inability to obtain an equivalence or recognition for their diplomas, obliging these clinics to remain “secret” and out of the police’s sight, limiting their work to patients from their narrow circles such as friends or cases from Syrian groups on social media.
A dentist, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Enab Baladi, that the Turkish government launched intensive campaigns on the majority of medical centers since the virus outbreak, and directed police patrols to catch violators.
This dentist works in an unlicensed private clinic since his arrival to Turkey, five years ago, due to his inability to obtain equivalence for his Syrian diploma. This can be attributed to many hurdles, starting from a challenging diploma equivalency exam to the requirement to pass a language exam prior to that.
Amid the increase of inspections campaigns, the dentist had to close his clinic even with the existence of prescheduled sessions for a number of patients. He added that “the closure decision came out fear of the virus spread from one hand, and fear to be fined by the Turkish government from the other hand.”
On 2 May this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released figures about Turkey’s COVID-19 outbreak, where the number of infections exceeded 120 thousand cases, with more than 3,174 deaths. Meanwhile, 54 thousand cases have recovered, according to the “Gis And Data” website run by Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
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