Experts warn of the risk of epidemics as corpses start to rot, earthquake victims who are not receiving adequate aid stay on the streets, and people still don’t have access to clean water in several regions a week after two major earthquakes hit Turkey’s southeast and Syria’s north.
The women and children, who are the most vulnerable group in the disaster area, cannot obtain hygiene products and that can be life threatening, according to medical doctors.
In Adıyaman (Semsûr), a Kurdish-majority city in Turkey’s southeast, only one research hospital and one field hospital consisting of three tents are currently functioning, according to Özge Yılmaz, Gynecology and Obstetrics Specialist from the Istanbul Medical Association.
Warning that special attention should be paid to the hygiene needs of women, Yılmaz told Duvar, “There is no way to obtain treatment for vaginal and urinary tract infection. As the stress hormone rises in disasters, there are problems with breast milk, baby formula is needed.”
Pregnant women in particular should have quick access to clean water, clothes and food, and the Ministry of Health should provide and announce additional delivery rooms, according to Aslı Davas from the Women’s Medicine and Women’s Health Branch of the Turkish Medical Association.
Davas drew attention to the need to provide aid materials such as nappies, sanitary pads, and iron supplements for women and children.
“Access points to water should be close to women’s shelters and should be well lit. Women’s and men’s toilets should be separate and not far from shelters.”
Istanbul Medical Association chairwoman Dr Nergis Erdoğan emphasised that there was a great risk of epidemics in the region saying, “There is danger from the presence of rodents and the spread of an epidemic to drinking water. Infections, especially diarrhoea, will also occur. Drinking water must be disinfected.”
So far, 1200 doctors have applied to the Istanbul Medical Association to go to the earthquake area as volunteer medics. However, the Association does not have the authority to send these doctors directly to the disaster zone, it can only forward the applications to the Health Directorate, Erdoğan explained. This causes a considerable delay in the arrival of doctors to the area.
“However, if we could make a plan together with the Health Directorates and the Ministry of Health, if we could create a common pool, we could direct the volunteer doctors to the regions in accordance with the needs in the region.”
There is also a great problem of rubbish that can cause epidemics in the earthquake region, opposition İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener said during her visit to Hatay, one of the provinces most affected by the earthquake.
“In the earthquake in Hawaii, 22,000 people lost their lives to epidemic diseases caused by the rubbish problem. Therefore, we need to pay attention to this,” Akşener said, adding that the children in the region have already started to suffer from diarrhoea. It should be arranged for children and their mothers to leave the area as soon as possible, Akşener added.
Evaluating the potential danger in the earthquake area, Dr Mehmet Ceyhan called on the authorities to supply tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis B vaccines urgently.
The Ministry of Health sealed the domestic vaccine production facility two months ago and assigned a private company to import the vaccines but the company was not able to supply the vaccines.
Stating that the most feared disease is tetanus, Ceyhan said that viruses that cause respiratory tract infections such as Covid have also increased a lot and the risk of spreading these viruses in the earthquake region is much higher.
Former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş also stated that serious health problems occurred in the disaster areas and called on Health Ministry to take action in cooperation with the Medical Associations.