Turkish doctors reach out to Africa
As Turkey increases its economic and political footprint in Africa, Turkish doctors are contributing to better relations one patient at a time.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 27/12/11
As an arm of Turkish soft power and growing regional influence, civil society organisations and doctors are leading the way to make a measurable impact on the ground in Africa.
The Turkey branch of the prominent doctors' organisation Yeryüzü Doktorları (Doctors Worldwide - DWW) has been active in Africa since 2000 in such places as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia, Ghana and Sierra-Leone.
Approximately 850 health professionals are committed to providing volunteer medical services like examinations, cataract and fistula operations, health screenings, establishing maternity clinics and hospitals, and providing medical supplies against endemic diseases in the region.
"The organisation has developed ambitious projects matching the key needs in East Africa, including the creation of a DWW Shifa hospital in Mogadishu, the opening of nutrition centres and the start of nutrition programmes," explained Esra Kartal, corporate communications director of the organisation.
Ihsan Kahraman, chair of DWW Turkey, uses a famous proverb to explain the organisation's objective: "Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. So, we are teaching African health professionals and providing medical services in a sustainable way."
Dr. Kamil Ozdil, an expert in gastroenterology, was a part of the team visiting Somalia this year.
"We performed check-ups, operations and simple surgeries as much as we could. However, the country is lacking basic and sustainable health infrastructure," he told SES Türkiye. "All health problems have become chronic and unresolved, so it requires that all countries in the world give their positive contribution."
To boost local capacity, DWW Turkey has been training 13 Somali health professionals in Turkish hospitals this year. "During some operations in Somalia, local doctors also assisted us, which contributed to their professional experience," Dr. Tamer Sekmenli, an expert in paediatric surgery, told SES Türkiye. Sekmenli's team visited Somalia this year, performing 56 operations in only ten days.
Another influential team composed of Manisa-based doctors has been providing communities in the Central African Republic with medical services since 2007.
The Manisa Health and Education Foundation and the Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency (TIKA) are providing technical and financial support to the doctors that perform hundreds of routine check-ups, hepatitis vaccinations and operations during each visit.
"As a result of the co-operation agreement between several Turkey-based nongovernmental organisations and TIKA, Turkish doctors are set to provide regular health services in 36 African countries," explained Dr. Fahrettin Er, an urologist in the team, adding that associations in each city are assigned to a specific country in Africa.
Also making an impact on the continent is the well-known Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There?) charity foundation, which has been organising health campaigns and lending medical support to people in need in Africa, including Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda.
"In Somalia, we've made nearly 70,000 health check-ups and surgical operations since August 2011, while in Uganda we are helping local officials to make circumcisions in order to prevent AIDS-HIV, and in Sudan, we have doing a lot of cataract operations," explained Veysel Kayabasi, health services director of the foundation.
The foundation opened health centres in the refugee camps; organised circumcision campaigns in several African countries; conducted malaria tests on local communities; and brought clean water to regions in order to decrease instances of diarrhoea. The association has been also spending large amounts of money to repair hospitals in Africa and to train local health professionals.