Selin Ünal | 1 February 2021
As a Syrian doctor under temporary protection in Turkey who received his vaccination, Doctor Mustafa Lölük says “I advise everyone to receive their shots when it is their turn. This is our responsibility towards one another.”
52-year-old Doctor Mustafa Lölük is from the Çobanbey district of Aleppo, Syria. He went to medical school in Syria and served as a family physician in Çobanbey for 20 years. In January 2014, he fled the attacks in his region with his family, taking refuge in Turkey.
He arrived in Gaziantep with his wife and three sons. The first years were not easy, enrolling the children in school and looking for work. He did know Turkish before that helped him earned a living working as a translator for over two years.
In 2017, Doctor Mustafa joined other Syrian healthcare professionals who were able to work at Migrant Health Centres pertaining to an EU-funded Ministry of Health’s project. After completing the training required for the programme, he became one of 75 Syrian doctors working in health centres in Gaziantep. He says, “Today, I’m practicing my profession as a doctor in Turkey. I am thrilled and proud. Turkey has embraced us and I can continue to help people. I am grateful.”.
Mustafa talks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting that he has been closely following the situation as well as the statements of the Turkish authorities since the beginning of the pandemic as a health care worker, he says, ‘When the first positive cases were observed in Turkey in March 2020, we, the Syrian doctors living in Gaziantep, took a decision to help our Turkish colleagues. We requested an appointment from the Gaziantep Governor and conveyed our will. Within 2 days we received a call from the Governor’s office and we were told that we will be given a role. We were so happy.”
Joining the task force of over one million health workers in Turkey, Mustafa and his Syrian colleagues took on an active role in the pandemic response. They took body temperatures at city entrances and exits and referring suspected Covid-19 cases to hospitals. Mustafa led the coordination of Syrian health workers in Gaziantep. He says, “There are approximately 250 Syrian doctors in Gaziantep, excluding dentists and pharmacists. We are in contact with all of them. In addition to the city entry and exit, we also supported police teams at checkpoints in the city, at that time not only health works but the Syrian community supported the 24-hour checks; including lawyers, workers and house women. During that time, around 10 million people’s temperatures were taken”.
They followed the pandemic process closely. Mustafa never misses the statements declared by the authorities and spreads the word to Syrians living in the city about measures taken and rules to follow. “About a month ago when the vaccine hadn’t yet arrived”, he says, “five of my colleagues and I organized an online seminar and in line with the official statements and we informed Syrians on vaccines and vaccination process Turkish is planning”. He explains further, “With support from partners, we reached Syrians in the city through communication networks and addressed around 50 people. We posted the session on social media, eventually reaching around one million Syrians”.
Mustafa talks about his own vaccination process. He explains, “I was following the HES* mobile application system, it informed me that I was in the target group and needed to make an appointment. I was informed of the time, the clinic, and the room number I needed to go to.” Mustafa said he was kept for a while under observation in case of an allergic reaction. Following the vaccination, he received another message informing him of the date of the second dose of the vaccine. His vaccination card was also available electronically so he could access it any time.
E-nabız (Turkish for E-pulse) is the official online health record portal of the Turkish Health Ministry. It is available for Turkish citizens and for non-Turkish persons with a valid identification number in Turkey. Users can log in using their identification number and their password. During the COVID-19 vaccination period, the platform also notifies eligible people about their vaccination schedule based on designated vaccination phases.
Mustafa says that the vaccine provides relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. He says, “Even though we still need to wear masks, maintain hygiene rules and keep our physical distance. These are rules that continue to apply and which I consider to be the ‘quasi-vaccine’. However, now there is also a real vaccine”.
As a healthcare provider, Mustafa follows the developments of the pandemic situation worldwide and knows that people are still hesitant about the vaccine. Through communication channels, he shares the benefits of the vaccine and the risks of not getting it. He stresses, “The risk of COVID-19 exists for all of us. It does not choose who to infect. It is not obligatory to be vaccinated but in order to get rid of this disease, we need to be vaccinated so that we can resume our normal lives and jobs more quickly”.
Mustafa is optimistic and urges everyone to receive the vaccine once it is their turn. He says, “It is possible to control the situation as much as possible if 70 percent of the people living in Turkey are vaccinated. I recommend everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it is their turn. This is our responsibility towards one another”.
Dr. Lölük also talked about his plans; “Together with some other Syrian doctors living in Gaziantep, we decided to establish an association called “Syrian Medical Association” to assist other Syrian doctors in Turkey through accreditation to work permit process. By coordinating our activities with the authorities we aim at reaching out to Syrians in Turkey in times like pandemic and support other similar situations”.
Mustafa and his family have lived in Gaziantep for seven years now. They are registered as Syrians under temporary protection. They hope that the pandemic will end soon. They also hope that Syria will be as it was before when it prospered. “My children have been educated in Turkey. My eldest son graduated from Gaziantep University, Faculty of Economics, and is now studying for his master’s degree. My middle son is studying International Trade and Logistics at the university in Kilis, and my youngest is in his second year of high school. I am able to continue working in the medical profession and for all this, we are very grateful to Turkey for these opportunities”.
*Hayat Eve Sığar (Life Fits into Home) is a mobile application developed by the Ministry of Health to minimize the risks related to COVID-19 by informing and guiding people about the disease. The app offers users a unique code based on the user’s personal health records. At the same time, the app shows the places to meet basic needs such as hospitals, pharmacies, market chains, subways and stops on the map, and lets users see the density of isolation at home, infected people and risky areas.