Turkey and Syria Earthquake: Medical Response

8 February 2023

Wednesday 8th February 2023

A devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria early morning on Monday 6th February. We take a look at what we know so far and the medical response to the earthquake, as well as the challenges responders are facing.

What do we know so far/ what are the key facts?

The US Geological Survey reported the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep, with Seismologists confirming the first quake was one of the largest ever recorded in Turkey and it took over two minutes for the shaking to stop. 

This was caused by the Arabian Plate sliding past the Anatolian Plate/fault zones. The major earthquake and large aftershock in Turkey on Monday are two of more than 70 quakes of magnitude 6.5 or higher recorded in the region since 1900. Turkey’s two main fault zones — the East Anatolian and the North Anatolian — make it one of the most seismically active regions in the world.

How many people have been injured or killed?

The death toll continues to rise- reports as of 8th February 2023 suggest at least 9,600 people have been killed and over 22,000 injured, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some 8,000 people have been rescued from the rubble. In Syria, at least 812 people were killed, with another 1,832 injured in the affected areas, according to the Syrian Health Ministry.

What medical aid is currently being provided?

Increased global support and solidarity to deliver humanitarian assistance is critical at this time and organisations including United Nations CERF, Red Crescent Societies, Save the Children, Unicef and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) have all launched appeals following the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. They are providing food, medical care, psychological support, and search and rescue efforts. 

UK International Search and Rescue Team have also deployed a team of experts to conduct a rapid need assessment to see what is needed on the ground, which includes World Extreme Medicine faculty member Deb Swann.  

What is the typical medical response to this type of event and is it being followed?

Search and Rescue teams are often the first teams dispatched to incidents like this as there is often protracted recovery of patients from collapsed structures and buildings. Specialist Urban Search and rescue devices can detect life through concrete structures and collapsed buildings.

What types of injuries are aid workers having to treat?

Most earthquake-related injuries and deaths result from collapsing structures, flying glass, and falling objects caused by ground shake. The prevailing injury patterns in protracted rescue are from crush injuries and circulating haemotoxic byproducts of crush pathology. 

What are the barriers to medical support and access?

In this context, the barriers to medical support are predominantly infrastructure related. The second and third-order effects of these events can make clean water and power challenging aspects of these incidents as well. Historically, disruption of gas, oil, power, and water lines are fundamentally affected after an earthquake of this profile and magnitude, and this looks to be the case in Turkey and Syria 

Does the location/terrain cause any specific challenges in terms of access to medical aid?

While all airports across Southern Turkey and Northern Syria likely felt the earthquake, three airports, in particular, have ceased operations. The first is Turkey’s Adana Sakirpasa Airport (ADA). This airport in the southern Turkish province of Adana has likely sustained some damage to its terminal like other buildings in the area. However, no reports have been released describing damage to the airport. This does add logistical challenges in getting both aid and medical teams into the region. 


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