Avian Flu- A Father, A Child, Poverty and Death: This story could be lived differently.- Umar Karatepe

January 16, 2006

While Turkey loses its fourth victim to the avian flu, the perpetrators are coming out of the woodwork one by one. When the flu claimed its third child victim, we discovered the first perpetrator as thousands of winged creatures were made to pay for their heinous crime through door-to-door searches. Now, after the death of the 16-year-old Fatma Özcan, the “negligent father” Mehmet Emin Özcan was forced to take his place in the accused stand.

All the evidence was against the father, Mehmet Emin Özcan. The illiteracy, apathy and negligence, which could be associated to his ethnicity, were already recorded in his rap sheet. He had obtained the birth certificate and an id card for his daughter only 4 years after her birth, and while the State worked its fingers to the bone in the so-called, “C’mon girls… off to school” campaigns (geared to give the impression of doing something with female illiteracy), Mehmet Emin Özcan had not even sent his daughter to school. [The Turkish government tried to increase the elementary and secondary school admittance and attendance of female students through such campaigns. However, the educators and the opposition defended that in order to increase the female student admittance, an increased rate of opening schools and a completely free education system was required. They also defended that the government’s campaign to get the girls to school was only a political show. Translator’s note.] Oh, but wasn’t the daily national paper Milliyet so right when it wrote, “Fatma had never lived anyway…” But we were told the obvious, the reason for her “not living at all” was the negligent father, who had sought medical help only too late after she had taken ill and had caused her death. Joining in, the Channel 7 TV station was devastated by the “Killer Negligence” and “could not take the ignorance of these people any more.”

The main news broadcasts on the evening of January 15th were satisfied that the other partner in crime of the murderer birds had been caught, so they wanted us to just carry on as business as usual and not to “exaggerate” the event like the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had requested. Now, once these birds are cleaned out and the negligent fathers are eliminated, there would be nothing to stop Turkey from defeating this problem of avian flu.

However, the words of the illiterate father in the halls of the hospital were telling another story that reflected another truth to the people of Turkey. When the health officials requested to transfer his daughter from the small town of Doğubeyazıt to a larger city of Van, he had replied, “I do not have a green Card (a government issued health card which needs to be presented at the time of admittance to public hospitals). I cannot go to the big cities and get frustrated at every turn before that card is given to me. If they are going to die, let them die here. Why don’t you treat her here?” he asked because he just could not believe that the hospital would cost nothing.

But why should he believe that it was free? Those who know that what is written in the constitution has nothing to do with what you live at the hospital gates were not surprised when the father Mehmet Emin Özcan refused to believe the doctors trying to assure him that the services were “free”. We have to be sure of one thing. Those who were watching the events unfurl from the coffee houses and the shantytowns of the poor neighborhoods were nodding their heads in agreement and were swearing at their “common fate” and were understanding what the father was going through when he stated that, “No, they do not take money from us but they make us sign a legal voucher of debt for our hospital fees. We need to be sure that these are the potentially “negligent” people being vilified. While a small proportion of the people in Turkey were “watching the news in bewilderment”, the vast majority was seeing their own story on the TV. The promising words of the Prime Minister for the last two years when he declared that, “nobody would be taken hostage in the hospitals” was very popular. [In Turkey, many instances where patients were refused to be released and locked in after their treatment when they could not pay the hospital bills. Translator’s note] People had been released from hospitals only after signing a debt voucher, and foreclosures were forced upon these patients, their families, their neighbors or someone they knew. The story of Fatma Özcan was being etched into the brains of the people as a confirmation of a hopeless experiment of surrender to death.

Well, when a 16-year-old girl dies and peasants who refuse to surrender their poultry crying, “If there will be a death, I will die… What is it to you?” Isn’t there something to be done against those who condemn them to “ignorance and negligence”? How long are we going to be forced to watch as an audience, the double faced games of those who expose the lives of the poor and their children or more importantly who expose the threats against the peoples’ health as a “monstrosity of another world”? How long will we tolerate the capital using the results of their crimes to pump up the “racism against the poor”? Will this story always be lived this way? Can’t there be another consciousness, another experience made pervasive in the minds of the poor who simply give up saying, “If we are going to die, we want to die here”?

Yes, this story could be lived differently! The avian flu pandemic has shown that to live this story in a different way is a matter of life and death for this society. The biggest “negligence” will be the laziness of peoples’ organizations, trade unions and progressive social forces that defend the peoples’ right to have equal and free health care. Organized forces will have to rapidly show our people that there is an alternative to submission to death. We need a wholesale mobilization to destroy the “wheeling-dealings” of those who, in a panic, immediately find resources for the poultry bosses and who convene the Board of Ministers and who see this pandemic as a chance to “feed” the capital. This mobilization should be one of “We want to live like Human Beings” against the desperate, “If they are going to die, let them die here” approach. The government, which compensates the bosses against the avian flu, should above all compensate the people it has disadvantaged by making the health care a matter of trade.

The government should announce a free health care for everybody, and make sure that anybody could go to the hospitals without “fear”. The government conducting door-to-door searches to destroy poultry should immediately start a door to door service of health care for everybody in those regions it has declared quarantine.

While the country is under such a threat, and when even the flag carrying leader of privatization of health care, the World Bank, does not even know whether privatization in health care would work or not, the new adventure of General Health Insurance, which will privatize the health services further should be abandoned.

While the avian flu pandemic is spreading to other countries, the government that laid off hundreds of nurses should immediately announce the re-hiring of these nurses and take measures to strengthen the ranks of the Ministry of Health.

The hospitals in the avian flu regions are complaining frequently that they lack equipment. However, the Ministry of Health has been quite apathetic to this issue. The most striking example of this insensitivity was demonstrated when the Van Century University filed an emergency request for 10 necessary equipment on January 4th. As if to bargain, the Ministry sent only 5 of those devices on Jan 6. The government should immediately stop cost saving measures and resolve the issue of equipment in the hospitals.

The institutions closed down for not being profitable like Manisa Poultry Vaccination Research Institut
e and the Poultry Disease Research should be immediately re-opened and institutes like this should be increaseThe international laws that limit such a production should be unilaterally annulled.

The avian flu does not only kill the children, but threatens their nourishment as well. Today, especially for the poor children, eggs are nearly the only source of protein. If a child does not have eggs and is malnourished with lack of proteins, the heavy damage this will cause will have negative effects throughout the child’s life. To counter the effects partially, free milk should be distributed in all the schools.

These demands could be multiplied, and any of these will be more realistic than the hopelessness of, “Let them die if they have to.” We need to stop the marketization of the health system and reverse this story we have been watching with the piercing eyes of 16-year-old Fatma and the flutter of her father who has been sentenced by the media, and find a way to bring the real perpetrators to justice. Otherwise, we will bid farewell to many Fatma’s and will allow people from our ranks to stand accused.