Turkey lacks transparency on COVID-19 deaths, medical chamber official says

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A senior official from the Ankara Medical Chamber has said Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca should be transparent and release detailed information about people who have died of COVID-19 in order to better fight the pandemic in the country, the Birgün daily reported on Friday.

Ever since Turkey reported its first coronavirus case on March 11, 2020, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been criticized for lacking transparency in its handling of the pandemic, with the credibility of the country’s coronavirus numbers having been called into question many times.

Although Koca said in a statement last week that the virus had lost its strength and that the worst days of the pandemic in Turkey were over, the country reported an average of 120,000 new coronavirus infections and nearly 200 deaths daily over the past week, according to official data.

Dr. Muharrem Baytemür, secretary-general of the Ankara Medical Chamber, told Birgün that Koca should share with the public the age, gender, profession, socioeconomic status, chronic diseases and vaccination status of people who died of COVID-19 in each province, claiming that the release of those statistics was key to efficiently handling the pandemic.

Noting that Turkey has officially reported over 12 million COVID-19 cases and more than 87,000 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic, Baytemür said: “In countries where the number of [coronavirus] cases is close to those in Turkey, the death rate is approximately one and a half times higher. There has been no scientific explanation [by Turkish authorities] for this so far.”

Baytemür said, based on data from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Ankara Medical Chamber, that 512 healthcare workers, including 185 doctors, have died in Turkey due to COVID-19, and that 84 percent of them were male.

Referring to Koca’s statement assuring the public that COVID-19 is losing strength in Turkey, Baytemür added: “The Health Ministry creates the perception that the disease is over, but the pandemic hasn’t ended. … According to our field observations, most of the people who died [of coronavirus] are unvaccinated, under-vaccinated or older people with chronic diseases.”

The TTB also responded to Koca’s remarks in a written statement, saying that people in Turkey contract the coronavirus and die as a result of the Health Ministry’s policies that disregard public health by lifting measures and letting the pandemic run its course.

“The health minister’s statements [advising people] not to worry in the face of this growing crisis are unscientific remarks coming from someone who doesn’t care about public health and should not be uttered by a minister. It’s clear from the successive statements of government [officials] that no measures are being taken against the current situation and that they intend to cover up the truth,” the TTB said.

The fact that the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) has been postponing the announcement of mortality figures since 2020, which are expected to shed light on the country’s actual coronavirus death toll, also leads to more controversy about the country’s real coronavirus death toll.

Some opposition party mayors also dispute the figures announced by the ministry as they revealed the daily coronavirus death toll in their respective provinces, which was sometimes close, sometimes higher than the total death toll reported by the ministry for the entire country.

Meanwhile, data released by TurkStat on Friday showed that the country’s population was 84.68 million as of the end of 2021, growing by 1.06 million from the previous year.

The population of İstanbul, the most heavily populated city, rose by 378,448 to reach over 15.84 million residents as of Dec. 31, 2021. The city accounts for 18.71 percent of Turkey’s total population.

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