Problems in Turkey’s healthcare system and incorrect policies are causing a surge in measles cases in the country, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) warned.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle Turkish service, Gamze Varol from the TTB said an increasing number of people were not vaccinated against the disease but the reason for this was not only anti-vaccination attitudes. “There is a large number of people who are not vaccinated simply because they are falling through the cracks of the system,” she said.
According to Varol many children do not have a primary care physician, who should be responsible for the scheduling of vaccinations. Moreover, district healthcare centers should make sure vaccines reach all members of society. These centers should also follow those families that are not registered in their neighborhoods and are therefore at higher risk of falling through the cracks.
“There aren’t any records of the exact number of children living in a neighborhood. The first step of tackling such contagious diseases as measles is having clear knowledge of the demographics,” she explained. “Migrants, and families on the move may not be registered with local authorities. In such cases it may seem that all children in the neighborhood are vaccinated, but this would be a false assumption because we would be counting the unregistered.”
Varol also said migrants are blamed for the surge in measles cases but that this was an unfounded claim. According to studies the genetic composition of the virus indicated it had entered the country through Europe and not through Turkey’s eastern borders.
In a recent tweet, Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said 95 percent of the country was vaccinated against measles and nearly 92 percent among migrants. He claimed the measles epidemic was under control and that most cases were concentrated in Istanbul. He also called on families to vaccinate their children.
However, the ministry has been criticized for a lack of transparency about the number of measles cases and deaths from the infection.
Measles has been reported in 17 countries of the World Health Organization’s European Region since the start of 2023, with more than 900 cases reported by the end of February, exceeding the number reported for all of 2022, according to the WHO.
The largest number of measles cases was registered in Tajikistan (610), Turkey (466) and Russia (414) between April 2022 and April 2023, the WHO said.
In 2021 a record high of nearly 40 million children globally missed a measles-containing vaccine dose: 25 million children missed their first dose and an additional 14.7 million children missed their second dose.
Countries in the region have been conducting catch-up vaccination campaigns on varied scales during the past year to identify and vaccinate children who have missed their routine doses, including of measles-containing vaccines, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.