When a 7.8 magnitude earthquake first struck Turkey more than seven months ago, the picture that emerged through the rubble was an uncertain one. In those first few moments, no one knew what would happen next. No one even knew how many had died.
The scenes were almost surreal. Cavernous fissures had torn the roads in two. Entire apartment blocks tilted backwards; houses leaned against one another like dominoes ready to fall. Heaps of debris lined the streets that had once been shops, homes, and restaurants.
There was a stunned silence over the rural villages and tented camps that had sprung up overnight to house the homeless. The damage seemed so catastrophic; it was difficult to imagine anything being rebuilt from the aftermath.
Yet humanitarian organisations, in cooperation with the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), were quick to mobilise. Local and international organizations and NGOs leapt to action, including UK-Med.
Launching the Response: A Field Hospital and Mobile Clinics
The day after the quake – on the 7th of February – UK-Med, under the banner of the UK Emergency Medical Team (EMT), dispatched a small assessment team comprising surgeons, a paramedic, emergency nurse, operations, and logistics staff. Day by day, the scale of the disaster became more apparent as the numbers of dead, injured, and missing began to skyrocket. It was clear that medical needs were overwhelming.
Soon after the team landed in Turkey, we dispatched our Type 1 field hospital – a structure capable of treating at least 100 patients per day – along with enough personnel, supplies, and equipment to deliver a fully-fledged emergency health care response. Only eight days after the earthquake, we began receiving our first patients at the field hospital which we’d set up in the town of Türkoğlu, around 30km from the epicentre of the quake.
In early March, the second wave of UK medical staff arrived on the scene, ensuring the uninterrupted provision of health care for affected communities.
Helen Davey, a nurse and midwife, spent two months in Turkey with the UK-Med team, working alongside Turkish medical staff to many women requiring continuity of care following the damage sustained to the region’s health infrastructure.
``Women came to the field hospital for support after tremendous losses such as that of their homes and family members. Yet their humour and characters remained so strong and bright,`` she said.
“A significant proportion of our patients have been women and children, many of whom are now internally displaced from their homes, and it has been extra important to me that the health needs of this community are met,” said Sophia Turner, an emergency nurse who at the time was Deputy Medical Coordinator at the field hospital in Türkoğlu.
The field hospital was not our only method of response – we also deployed mobile clinics. This proved a vital service for more remote communities that were unable to access medical aid in the field hospital. Equipped with supplies, medicine, and fully staffed, these mobile clinics operated up to 50km from the UK-Med base. “The mobile clinic is a more condensed version of the hospital that physically goes out to the patients who can’t come to us,” said Richard.
The Second Phase: Helping to Rebuild Health Infrastructure
By late April, recognising that health needs were stabilising and with local authorities once again able to sustain the caseload of patients, the last of our staff left Turkey and headed back to the UK and their respective nations. We handed over surplus pharmaceutical, medical consumables, and other supplies to local health facilities, whilst the field hospital itself was donated to the Ministry of Health. Since the team had first touched down in February, we’d treated more than 7,000 patients.
Yet our response did not end there. Last week, Türkoğlu hospital hosted a handover ceremony following the delivery of the final batch of medical equipment worth more than £100,000, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). The donation included various medical, surgical and laboratory equipment. This ceremony represented the final stage of our response in Turkey.
Anna Daniell, UK-Med’s Humanitarian Operations Coordinator who deployed with to Turkey earlier in the year, returned to the country to attend the handover.
“It’s been nearly 6 months since I left and it’s been really lovely to come back to Turkoglu and great to see the hospital facility and many of the colleagues we worked alongside in the field hospital,” she said, “There is still a long way to go to rebuild but you can really see that life is slowly returning to normal again.”
While we close the chapter on our Turkey response, our work continues elsewhere. We are still providing health care in Ukraine. We recently deployed an assessment team to Morocco. Crises continue to occur at relentless pace around the globe, but our teams remain ready to deliver aid wherever they may be needed.