For a while, Turkey fared well in containing the coronavirus outbreak but has found itself lapsing into a worsened situation recently. Daily cases are around 30,000 nowadays. Nevertheless, those at the highest risk from infections apparently remain safe. Turkey is among the most successful countries in saving the lives of the elderly in nursing and care homes.
According to the Daily Sabah (a pro Turkish Government newspaper) thanks to effective measures taken in nursing and care homes, Turkey has prevented outbreaks in those facilities. In the countries most affected by the pandemic, around 50% or more of all deaths from the virus are from the elderly living in nursing homes, according to the country's Directorate of Services for the Disabled and Elderly. According to the directorate, less than 10% of coronavirus-related deaths occurred in nursing and care homes in Turkey.
Measures taken by Turkey
Turkey started to implement measures in care homes in February 2020, a month before the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the country, by restricting visits and monitoring temperatures of residents at least four times a day. In April 2020, all facilities serving the elderly were instructed to switch to a 14-day fixed shift system and COVID-19 tests were conducted on personnel entering and exiting facilities from the outside. If test results are positive for the virus, that individual is treated at a hospital. Those whose treatment process has been completed are monitored in isolation institutions for 14 days following hospital discharge.
This approach is a far cry from the advice given to care homes by the Government at the onset of the pandemic, where we were more than slow to get off the mark.
The measures taken by Turkey are a model for others
The measures taken in nursing and care homes in Turkey have been shown as a model several times by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Vaccinations also provide extra protection. On Jan. 14, Turkey began a mass vaccination campaign, starting with health care workers and top officials to encourage public confidence in vaccines.
As of Sunday, the number of people vaccinated exceeded 14.7 million.
As of March 18, the vaccinations of people older than 65 and health care workers have been completed, said Health Minister Fahrettin Koca. People aged 65 and over constitute 9.5% of the population and made up nearly 8 million people in 2020. The country is 66th among 167 countries in the ranking of its elderly population ratio, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Turkey will start vaccinating people aged above 60 years and some risk groups. "Citizens over the age of 60 will be able to get the vaccination by appointment with their spouses. In addition, some risk groups were included in the program," Koca said on Twitter. "Patients with morbid obesity, cancer with a malignant tumor, and those who receive dialysis, as well as people with Down's syndrome and those receiving immunosuppressive treatment were identified in the system to for priority vaccine jabs," Koca said. "We want to protect our most vulnerable citizens as soon as possible," he added.
Elderly at risk elsewhere
For those in nursing and care homes around the world, on the other hand, the situation is quite grim. Around 66% of Canada's terminal COVID-19 victims lived in nursing homes, among the highest rates in the world. As the U.S. recorded the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths with nearly 550,000 fatalities, the figures show that eight in ten COVID-19 deaths have been in adults 65 years old and above.
In Europe, 30% to 60% of COVID-19-related deaths in 2020 were residents of long-term care facilities, including older age groups, according to the WHO.
Between March 2 and June 12, 2020, 18,562 residents in care homes in the United Kingdom died from COVID-19, including 18,168 people aged 65 and older, representing almost 40% of all deaths involving COVID-19 in England during that period, according to data from the U.K. Office of National Statistics.
The report in the Daily Sabah reaffirms the catastrophic effect of the pandemic on residents who live in care homes across the world. The WHO rates Turkey a model for the prevention of the virus in care homes. Some of the measures adopted by turkey at the onset of the coronavirus could have been of great benefit especially on testing and prioritisation of vulnerable groups such as people with learning disabilities.
A major lesson for us all is should be not take our eye off the ball. Acknowledging the great success of our vaccination programme, it would be foolish not to take into account some of the measures successfully adopted by Turkey.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy