World Refugee Day: WHO training enables Syrian doctors and nurses to provide health care in Turkey

“We and the Turkish doctors are working like brothers and sisters.” These are the words of Muhammed Hattab, 1 of more than 3 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey – the country with the highest number of refugees in the world. A doctor who fled his home in Aleppo more than 2 years ago, Muhammed did not know whether by leaving northern Syria he was also abandoning his profession and the career he had built in his home country. However, thanks to a joint programme of the WHO Country Office in Turkey and the Turkish Ministry of Health, he has been able to begin a new chapter of his life and career, working in the Turkish national health system and providing care for his fellow Syrians in Turkey.

In 2016, the Turkish government enacted a law that allows Syrian health professionals to enter the workforce in the Turkish health system, with the aim of both integrating Syrian professionals into the health system and also ensuring that Syrian refugees can receive health care without encountering language or cultural barriers. In order to implement this law, the Public Health Institution of Turkey, associated with the Ministry of Health, and the WHO Country Office developed an adaptation training for Syrian health workers living Turkey – including doctors, nurses and midwives. The initiative is supported financially by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations (ECHO).The training provides classroom and practical coursework, resulting in a certificate that authorizes Syrian health-care workers to practice in refugee health centres established in Turkey and to deliver health services to Syrian refugees.

Since the trainings began in November 2016, over 380 doctors and 360 nurses and midwives have received vocational competence certificates, allowing them to serve refugee populations in Turkey. Ultimately, they will staff the 260 refugee health centres and 600 refugee health units that the Ministry of Health has opened and will establish in the future. These centres and units provide primary health care, with services offered to Syrian refugees free of charge.

“This project in Turkey was the salvation for Syrian doctors,” says Muhammed. “With this programme, we felt like doctors for the first time in 2 years.”

WHO and Ministry of Health collaborate to provide training and support for Syrian health workers

While the health-care profession has general underlying principles that are universal across different parts of the world, some important regulations and practices differ greatly from country to country. The adaptation training seeks to give Syrian health workers the knowledge and experience they need in order to be fully competent and skilled in the Turkish setting. They must first apply for the programme and go through a selection process. Once approved by the Ministry of Health, they undergo a 1-week classroom training with Turkish university professors and lecturers, followed by 6 weeks of on-the -job training in a Refugee Health Centre. By working under the mentorship of Turkish health professionals for several weeks, they are able to familiarize themselves with the Turkish health system and prepare to provide care within this system. They are also evaluated at each stage of the training process before becoming certified to work in Turkey, helping to ensure good results for Syrian patients in the country.

“These trainings are not only a way to address language barriers but a good example of the collaboration between national and international partners in Turkey to help the integration of Syrian medical doctors, nurses and midwives to serve the community of refugees. We appreciate that the Government of Turkey, the Ministry of Health and Turkish health staff ensure equitable access to health services. And we consider this a one-of-a-kind collaboration among WHO, academia and the Ministry of Health to set an example for other countries, accommodating high numbers of refugees and migrants,” comments Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative to Turkey.

WHO supports the classroom portion of the training, in collaboration with the Ministry, and is committed to making sure that Syrian health professionals are equipped with the essential theoretical background for their future career. In addition, WHO provides trainees with financial support for the duration of practical training to cover living expenses and travel costs.

Follow the links below and watch the video to learn more about the ways WHO’s work supports Syrian refugees in Turkey.

World Refugee Day: #WithRefugees

Each year on 20 June, the world commemorates the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. In a world where violence forces thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, World Refugee Day offers an opportunity for the global public to once again show that it stands with them. The United Nations Refugee Agency launched the #WithRefugees petition in June 2016 to send a message to governments that they must work together and combine their efforts to ensure the health and well-being of the world’s refugees.