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Turkey's Health Ministry to provide no more new data on swine flu deaths

24 December 2009 [10:48] - TODAY.AZ
The Turkish Health Ministry decided this week to stop releasing the number of deaths due to swine flu, a decision some experts criticized, saying it could erode transparency and confidence.
Other experts, however, suggest the move might be designed to stop spreading fear over the disease.

Instead of providing information on the numbers of deaths, the ministry said it will focus its energy on vaccinating more people. It will, however, continue informing the World Health Organization, or WHO, about fatality statistics.

“The ministry was doing the right thing. I do not understand why it decided to stop disclosing numbers. It’s bizarre,” said Dr. Önder Ergönül of Marmara University Medical School’s infectious diseases branch.  

Not disclosing the numbers might also increase panic, said Dr. Ali Özyurt, secretary of the Turkish Medical Association’s Scientific Advisory and Watch Board for Pandemics. “Transparency and confidence are critical,” he added.

Özyurt suggested the ministry might have chosen to stop providing the statistics because the number of deaths in Turkey has now exceeded 450, more than the ministry originally expected.

He added that government pressure might also have been a factor in the decision.

The Health Ministry has denied allegations that the government or Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded to remove swine flu from the media’s agenda. The decision was made by a scientific board for pandemics, ministry officials said.

At the onset of the flu outbreak, the ministry said 400 people would die, even if all necessary measures were taken. The fact that the death toll has already exceeded 400 indicates the failure to take necessary measures, Özyurt said.

“Some 43 million doses of vaccine were ordered, but only 2 million people were vaccinated,” he added.

Since the emergence of the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, vaccines have been the subject of intense debate in Turkey. The Health Ministry ordered vaccines and made the necessary preparations to vaccinate people, yet tension between Health Minister Recep Akdağ and Erdoğan increased the confusion over the practice.

Akdağ received the vaccine, but Erdoğan said he and his family would not be vaccinated. When the health minister said the prime minister would be vaccinated too, Erdoğan scolded Akdağ.

U.S. President Barack Obama was vaccinated Tuesday and said he made his two daughters get the vaccine as well. “Obama was vaccinated. If Erdoğan and his wife were to get vaccinated, it would have a strong effect,” Özyurt said.

However, according to the head of the Turkish Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Haluk Eraksoy, the ministry’s decision is not that strange.

“When the disease first erupted, there were people who did not consider it serious and did not want to understand that it is fatal,” he said, adding that everyone now knows that swine flu can be fatal.

“The ministry does not want to demoralize people by disclosing the number of people who died,” Eraksoy said. “The media reports effectively caused the ministry to be seen as an institution spreading or giving out bad news.”

Eraksoy noted that people can learn about the number of deaths from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, or ECDC, both organizations that update their data – including figures from Turkey – on a regular basis.

“This is a pandemic and the ministry should provide the data,” he added.

According to the ministry’s latest data, made available after a parliamentary request, 458 people have died in Turkey due to swine flu.

To date, it is estimated that 4 million people have been infected with the virus, while an additional 2 million have taken the vaccine. Though a total of 6 million people now have immunity from the virus, this has not been enough to halt its spread.

/Huriyyet Daily News/
URL: http://www.today.az/news/regions/58482.html

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