On July 6th, a cardiologist and his secretary were murdered at Turkey’s Konya City Hospital by a patient’s son. The suspect, Hacı Mahmut Akçay, committed suicide after firing shots at the doctor, Ekrem Karakaya. According to the University of California Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, 2020 saw 1,100 attacks against healthcare professionals, about 400 of which, researchers say, were related to COVID-19. Akçay, who reportedly committed the shootings out of anger with Dr. Karakaya over a family member’s treatment, joins a growing crowd of bereaved who are taking their frustrations with the pandemic out on the people treating it.
The attack comes at a critical time: thousands of doctors are leaving Turkey and moving abroad due to the frequent acts of violence and poor working conditions. According to the Turkish Medical Association (T.T.B.), 1,171 doctors applied to the T.T.B. in the first three months of 2022 for a certificate of good standing in advance of an international move. Moreover, a report published by the Union of Health and Social Service Workers states 364 medical workers were attacked and 316 lost their lives in 2021, increasing the number of incidents of violence against medical workers by 62 percent.
In response to the murder-suicide, doctors at the Konya City Hospital staged a demonstration in the hospital’s courtyard protesting violence against healthcare workers, and medical workers across the country ordered a strike over the following two days. The T.T.B. also condemned the attack on its Twitter account, stating that doctors will never forgive those who fail to take the necessary measures to protect them against acts of violence.
“In the face of violence, we can no longer tolerate any damage to … physicians/health workers,” the T.T.B. wrote. “As we have repeatedly stated, violence is a predictable and preventable social problem, and this problem can be overcome with overarching policies aimed at solving it.”
To that end, the T.T.B. called for the resignation of the Minister for Health, Fahrettin Koca, citing the government’s failure to stop violence against medical workers. However, Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (R.T.U.K.) cut media coverage short.
“Regarding the armed attack in Konya City Hospital, a broadcast ban has been imposed on media operating in written, visual and social media form and on the internet,” R.T.U.K. said. Media organizations which do not obey the ban may be fined at R.T.U.K.’s request.
In the face of the increasing violence against doctors, the World Health Organization has developed an Attack on Health Care initiative aiming to ensure safe and protected environments, from which medical workers can provide care without disruption or acts of violence. Medical professionals are demanding regulations to better protect them in the rising epidemic. But given that the Turkish government controls 90% of the country’s national media, the extreme censorship makes it unlikely for such efforts to succeed within its borders.
As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also mobilize in solidarity with medical workers. Instead, however, Turkey is ostracizing those who fight to expose the political and social causes of rising violence. Even should regulations for better working conditions be passed, a mere law will not be enough to prevent healthcare workers from being murdered. Rather, Turkey’s government must acknowledge the context and root causes of this deepening epidemic of violence within its healthcare system.
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