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Increase in cases of measles in Turkey sparks questions over cause


The health minister says immigration movements caused the ascent of measles cases in Turkey, while another official says Europe is the source of virus

Turkey has witnessed a 20-fold increase in measles cases this year, particularly in its southern provinces, which have seen the arrival of a substantial number of Syrian migrants.

According to the latest data announced by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Central Council, the number of recorded measles patients in Turkey, which was 349 in 2012, approached 6,000 in the first six months of the year.

Turkish Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu attributed the cause of the remarkable jump in measles cases to “the mass movement of people that Turkey is exposed to given its location,” answering a petition filed by the independent Istanbul deputy Levent Tüzel on Sept. 23.

The minister said Turkey’s location and recent rise in migration had raised the risks of exposure to contagion.

The surge in population in the southeastern and Mediterranean provinces, where most Syrians have fled to since the outbreak of civil war, provoked particularly high exposure rates, Müezzinoğlu also noted.

Europe, not Syria, source of virus: Organization

However, Turkey’s Public Health Institution contradicted claims that the source of the measles outbreak was Syria.

“The source of the viruses is not Syria, it’s Europe, as Europe is currently experiencing a large-scale measles epidemic. This has been proved by way of laboratory findings,” the institution’s Deputy Chairman Mehmet Ali Torunoğlu told Anadolu Agency yesterday.

He said they vaccinated the children of Syrian immigrants regularly, keeping to a timetable. “We vaccinate children younger than five against measles, poliomyelitis, tetanus and diphtheria at camps, and family doctors control those outside of camps,” he said.

Torunoğlu, however, claimed the surging flow of Syrian refugees into Turkish provinces caused a slight increase in cutaneous leishmaniasis (or “Aleppo boil”) cases.

“There are 50,000 Aleppo boil cases in Syria according to official data, but 200,000 according to non-official figures. Therefore, there has been a slight increase in Aleppo boil cases originating from Syria [in Turkey], but there is nothing to worry about,” he said.

Torunoğlu said both measles and Aleppo boil cases were under control, with the intention to alleviate the public’s concerns. The Turkish Health Ministry has been taking all necessary measures and has been successful in curbing the rapid rise [of cases of measles], he added.

UNICEF had issued a warning to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey against measles outbreaks, calling on pertinent institutions to gear up their pre-emptive efforts, in a report it released in April. “With considerable amounts of migration, as well as the breakdown of regular health services in Syria, additional precautions are required to ensure that children are protected against deadly diseases, such as measles, no matter where they may be,” Mahendra Sheth, UNICEF Regional Health Advisor, had said.

Since the crisis’ onset more than two years ago, over 1.4 million Syrian refugees have fled into neighboring countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, with an average, at present, of up to 8,000 Syrians fleeing the country daily, the UNICEF statement read.