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Turkish doctors turn detectives to track virus

A health officer checks the temperature of an Istanbul resident. Nearly 6,000 teams of "tracers" track potential cases of the novel coronavirus 24 hours a day / © AFP

In full protective gear, two doctors climb the stairs four at a time. Their first task of the day: to test a woman who has had contact with a coronavirus patient in Istanbul.

Visibly perturbed by the appearance of men in white bodysuits on her landing, the resident in the populous Fatih district answers their questions before she is tested.

She will get her results the next day.

In Turkey, nearly 6,000 teams of "tracers" -- all health professionals -- track potential COVID-19 cases 24 hours a day by identifying and following up with people who have had contact with patients.

By helping find new cases who are then quickly isolated and treated, the Turkish government says tracing has helped to contain the outbreak and limit the number of deaths.

Even if some observers have questioned the reliability of official figures, Turkey's death toll seems relatively low given the number of infections -- with 3,641 fatalities recorded and more than 133,700 cases, according to data released Thursday.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday he believed tracing was "at the heart of (Turkey's) success" in the fight against the disease.

Each tracing process identifies an average of 4.5 people who have been in contact with a patient, according to Koca.

More than 460,000 people had been contacted by tracers in Turkey, he said on April 29.

- 'Detective work' -

To find potential cases, the doctors do "real detective work", said Melek Nur Aslan, director of the public health agency in Fatih district.

When a COVID-19 patient is identified, "we try to retrace their journey in the last 48 hours before the appearance of the first symptoms until the moment when they are tested positive" for the virus, she told AFP.

For this, the doctors go to the patients' bedside or home with a list of questions: where did they go? Who did they speak to? Were they wearing a mask?

They then compile a list of potentially contaminated people whom they ask to self-isolate for 14 days.

If the person has symptoms or develops them during their confinement, they are tested.

This is exactly what happened in Fatih where the doctors have just intervened: the woman they visited complained of fatigue and migraines.

Once the doctors leave the building, they remove their protective equipment and throw it into a large rubbish bag.

One of them carries a box containing the sample that will be sent to the laboratory during the day.

If the test is positive, the woman "will appear as a confirmed case in our file, which will lead to a new tracing process", said one of the tracers, Mustafa Sever, a GP.

- Reassurance -

The tracers' role will also be crucial to avoid a second wave of contagion as Turkey prepares to loosen restrictive measures, including reopening shopping centres and hairdressers from Monday.

Unlike in some other countries where tracing has led to debates over confidentiality and how the data is used, Turkey began this route to tackling the pandemic from the start.

Source: RTL Today (May 10, 2020)


Turkey’s success by numbers in fight against COVID-19 pandemic

A string of measures and contingency plans helped Turkey to outdo other countries in the number of recovering patients. The rate of recoveries in the country stands at 59.36%, well above the global average of 33.76%

Extreme caution, strict measures, and a robust health care system: These are the three factors helping Turkey fight the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities say. Figures show this is not a hollow claim. As of Wednesday, the rate of active cases in the world was 58.03% and the recovery rate was 33.76%. For Turkey, the rate of active cases is 36.95% and recoveries are at 59.36% in proportion to the total number of cases.

The country also managed to bring the proportion of patients in intensive care units due to coronavirus below the world average of 1.29%. The global death rate has dropped to 6.91% while Turkey succeeded in reducing it to 2.7%.

Turkey’s success in implementing early measures was praised by the World Health Organization (WHO). Measures, implemented gradually, ultimately led to weekend curfews while the country sought to dodge the economic impact of the outbreak by keeping the “wheels” turning, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly said. Despite violations, the Turkish public largely complied with outbreak measures from curfews to social distancing.

The number of tests peaked on April 29 to 43,498, and on the same day, the country reported a case increase rate of 6.74%, the lowest since March 20. Some 10.6% among those tested had coronavirus on April 29. On May 5, this proportion dropped to 5.9%.

The country’s daily death toll dropped to 64, taking the total number of fatalities to 3,584, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter Wednesday. The overall number of cases, in the meantime, rose by 2,253 for a total of 131,744.

A total of 78,202 people in Turkey have so far recovered from the coronavirus. The total number of tests conducted in the country during the outbreak has crossed 1.2 million.

Koca said Wednesday that Turkey has completed the first phase of its fight against the pandemic, adding that the country will adapt to a "new normal." "The pandemic is under control but the realities of the virus have not changed. Your homes remain the safest place against the virus," Koca said following a Coronavirus Science Board meeting.

He said that people must now have a "controlled social life." "Our aim in the first phase was to take the virus under control. Our strategy in the second phase will be a controlled social life. We are moving toward a free but cautious lifestyle," he said, adding: "There are two basic rules in a controlled social life. First, use masks if you have to go outside. Second, maintain social distancing." The results of efforts to counter the virus, as well as success in diagnosis and treatment in the country, prove that Turkey has the pandemic under control, the minister noted.

In the new phase, the country aims to eliminate the disease, reopen businesses and set new social behavior guidelines to prevent any resurgence of the outbreak, he added. The government will publish guidance for businesses to ensure the coronavirus remains contained when they open next week, he noted. It will also increase testing capacity and continue contact-tracing efforts. Shopping centers will reopen on May 11 with only a limited number of people allowed inside, but Koca said restaurants and cafes inside the malls will not open. Barbers and hairdressers will also be allowed to open but weekend lockdowns will continue in 31 cities including Ankara and Istanbul.

Turks in the U.K. help Britons

A Turkish state agency and Turkish civil society groups in the United Kingdom are distributing aid to needy people, including the elderly, amid the coronavirus lockdown.

The British Turkish Cypriot Association, International Democrat Union, and other groups are working together with Turkey’s state-run Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) in facilitating the initiative, the Diaspora COVID-19 Support, and Coordination Program.

The distribution of 1,000 aid packages containing food and personal care products began Thursday. Packages will be distributed throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

With this program, started by the YTB, people who lack access to basic needs due to virus restrictions are supported through the collaborative efforts of ex-pats and Turkish civil society groups. Some of these groups also produce masks in their workshops with the funds they receive from YTB, with the masks then donated to nursing homes and hospitals. Under the program, health care workers are also paid regular visits and given gifts to help keep their morale high.

In the U.K., more than 30,100 people have died of the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China late last year.

COVID-19 cases have been reported in 187 countries and regions, with the United States being the worst hit.

Many countries, including Spain, Italy, and Germany, have eased virus restrictions following a slowdown in the virus' spread. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, has said that the U.K. will move to a "second phase" only when there is a "sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from coronavirus" and "reliable data to show that the rate of infection is decreasing."

Source: (May 7, 2020)

Turkey provides medical aid to 53 countries to tackle coronavirus pandemic

Turkey continues to fight against the coronavirus pandemic both within and outside the country by responding to the aid requests of 53 countries so far and sending medical supplies to defeat the virus.

Receiving aid requests from more than 100 countries, Ankara has provided assistance to all corners of the globe, from Somalia to Italy.

Turkey, as a country that has made a name for itself in the last decade with its humanitarian efforts, has already become a prominent figure of this fresh statecraft by sending medical aid packages to many corners of the globe every other day.

"So far, we have delivered medical equipment to 34 countries," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week during a news conference following a Cabinet meeting in Istanbul. "We will continue our support (to other countries) in the upcoming days as well," he said. Since then, the numbers escalated to 53 as the demands continue.

The first aid kits were delivered to China on Jan. 31, with protective overalls, 93,500 medical masks, 500 medical protective glasses, and 10,000 non-sterilized pieces of equipment.

China was followed by Turkey's neighbor, Bulgaria, where 50,000 masks, 100,000 protective overalls, and 100,000 protective glasses were delivered. Then, TL 72 million ($10.3 million) of financial aid along with thousands of units of medical equipment were sent to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Iran, one of the countries hit hardest by the virus, received 10,000 diagnosis kits, 4,715 overalls, 20,000 aprons, 2000 glasses, 4000 N95 masks, and 73,000 three-layered masks. To Iraq, 30,000 masks were sent along with 475 food packages and disinfectants. Lebanon also received food aid with deliveries being distributed to more than 600 families in the poorest parts of the capital city, Beirut.

Turkey's aid packages mostly include medical masks, protective overalls, and gloves as well as disinfectants. All equipment was produced at military-owned factories and at sewing workshops that produce military uniforms and other clothing for the army.

Europe also received large medical aid packages from Turkey. Italy and Spain, two of the worst-hit countries on the continent, received packages on April 1. The U.K. and Ireland became other nations that accepted Turkey's aid deliveries. Multiple shipments have been sent to the U.K. over the past few weeks with the latest taking place a couple of days ago. Ankara helped to fulfill the protective overall needs of the virus-hit country. Ireland also received packages of aid filled with protective kits. Both nations expressed great gratitude to Turkey, with Ireland recalling the humanitarian aid the Ottoman Empire delivered 173 years ago, referring to Turkey's tradition of assistance.

Turkey has a long tradition of sending humanitarian aid to countries facing difficulties, even for those it has tense diplomatic relations with. For instance, back in 1938, only a decade after the country’s foundation following a bloody war, Turkey sent medicine to China amid the outbreak of cholera in far-east Asia. Similarly, in 1941, Turkey sent medicine to the Greek army upon demand from Greece, a country that fought against Turkey during the liberation war. Similar aid has been provided to many other countries over the years, including Etiopia, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

On April 8, several Balkan countries, including North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, received a cargo plane full of diagnosis kits, masks, and overalls. Albania, on the other hand, received six ambulances.

Africa has also not been left alone, as several of the continent's countries received medical aid. On April 9, 400 hygiene packages were delivered to Guinea, while Somalia accepted its aid on April 17. Lesotho was another African country that received Turkish supplies.

Palestine, which is under siege by Israel, and Colombia also received humanitarian aid from Turkey on Wednesday.

In some countries, such as Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Uganda, and Hungary, Turkey started to produce masks with local resources instead of sending aid.

Two of Turkey's major allies, the U.S. and Russia, however, received aid indirectly. During a period when no countries sold medical products, Turkey allowed its private firms to export to these states. Thanks to this privilege, both the U.S. and Russia received tens of thousands of diagnosis kits and masks.

Source: (April 24, 2020)

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UNESCO’s “Global Flow of Tertiary Students” records (2015) show that Turkey is the first choice as a study abroad destination for 5 countries; one of the first 3 choices for 14 countries; and in a cumulative fashion, it’s in the top 5 for 26 countries; top 10 for 59 countries; first 20 for 104 countries; first 30 for 145 countries; first 40 for 164 countries; first 50 for 173 countries…

Furthermore, the number of foreign inbound students in Turkey has stepped up to about 130.000 in 2018 from about 72.000 of 2015. Click to See Country by Country


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