Some performed concerts, others convened to commemorate colleagues who died in the fight against the coronavirus. Most of them were working. Medicine Day, a Turkish version of National Doctors’ Day, was marked on Sunday in the country where fatigue looms over health care professionals one year after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My dream is a life without PPEs,” Fatma Nur Koyunlu, a doctor in the northwestern province of Kırklareli, says, referring to personal protective equipment she has to wear due to the pandemic. Koyunlu is a member of a contact-tracing crew that monitors coronavirus patients at home and tracks down people who might have come into contact with them. Throughout her daily shift, she barely removes her cumbersome, head-to-toe suit, the only protection against infection. “We are really tired, but we do not show it,” she told Anadolu Agency (AA). Along with contact tracing, she and others also work in vaccination since January, visiting remote villages, sometimes during heavy snowfall and sometimes by walking for hours to reach places inaccessible by vehicle. “I never complained despite all (except having to wear PPE). We get used to seeing children fleeing in fear when they see us. People are worried when they see us in their neighborhood, wondering who is infected,” she says.
“We cannot celebrate this day but it will be great if we can, but this will be possible only when there is no coronavirus patient left,” says nurse Nuray Türkeri who works at a hospital in the northwestern province of Edirne. Türkeri welcomed the day at the COVID-19 unit of the hospital, attending to patients fighting for their lives. “The only thing that makes us happy is seeing a patient recover. We are always with our citizens, and we fight alongside them. We will defeat the outbreak together,” she says.
More than 200 health care workers died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak in the country in March 2020. In December 2020, the Health Ministry announced that those who died or were infected would be considered as victims of occupational disease and survivors would be paid benefits while families of those who died would also receive benefits. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers, as a result of international efforts led by Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote a letter to health care workers on the occasion. The letter, published by an online platform set up to pay respect to health care workers, praised doctors, nurses and other professionals. “Our health care workers worked day and night to help our citizens to regain their health. They could not go home for weeks and could not hug their children, their loved ones. It is this sacrifice and endeavor you made that made Turkey an example in the world in the fight against the coronavirus,” the president wrote.
“Health care workers carry out a respectable job where knowledge and skills are combined with sacrifice and directly touch lives of people. Medicine Day is our way of showing our respect and paying tribute to them. Throughout history, health care workers have helped others at the cost of their lives, and in this tough struggle against the coronavirus pandemic, they were at the forefront again,” Erdoğan highlighted.
“We were mobilized to relax your burden, to improve your working condition in this process,” the president said, addressing health care workers, pointing to 25 new health facilities with a capacity of 16,000 beds.
Professor Cevdet Erdöl, the rector of Health Sciences University, called on authorities to recognize medical professionals who died fighting COVID-19 as “martyrs,” like soldiers dying in counter-terrorism operations. “Medicine Day is an occasion to highlight the devotion of health care workers to this country, whether during wars, pandemics, disasters and other situations. From doctors to nurses, pharmacists and dentists, they work to protect the health of an entire nation. In this pandemic, they fought a great battle, leaving behind their families, to heal patients and sometimes, losing their lives in the process. We desire all those who died of COVID-19 while healing patients to be recognized as martyrs and survivors to be given the title of “gazi”,” he said, referring to the title given to people injured in wars.
Erdöl said health care workers were worried most during the pandemic about the “insensitivity” of people to rules implemented to curb the number of infections. “There are very simple rules, like wearing a mask, adhering to your social distancing and hygiene and having vaccinated. The pandemic will be largely under control once we follow these rules,” he said at an event in Istanbul to mark Medicine Day.
The observation of March 14 as Medicine Day has its roots in the Ottoman era. The date marks the establishment of the first modern school of medicine in Istanbul, the capital of the empire and hence, the beginning of modern medical training. The day was first celebrated in 1919 during the occupation of the city by foreign forces in the aftermath of World War I. Medical students had organized the first celebration which was in reality, a protest against the occupation.
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