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Patient guides build bridge between Syrian refugees and doctors in Turkey

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Muhammad Weso, Muhamad Zehra and Melek Nuur Fatistooglu play a crucial role in providing health services to Syrian refugees across Turkey.

They are Syrian bilingual patient guides who provide translation services to refugee patients and their doctors in Turkish state hospitals and migrant health centres.

In situations where even the slightest misunderstanding could make the difference between health or illness, the patient guides serve not only as interpreters, but as bridge builders between caregivers and patients.

Training for expertise and common ground

In the last 2 years, more than 600 bilingual patient guides have been trained within the scope of the “Improved access to health services for Syrian refugees in Turkey” project. The European Union-funded project is being implemented by the Turkish Ministry of Health and the WHO Country Office in Turkey.

The patient guides help doctors and patients find common ground and mutual understanding, contributing to accurate treatment. The EU-funded trainings help build their expertise in the crucial role they play.

As one of the trainers explained: “The patient guide serves as a link between a patient needing medical attention, and a doctor who can assist that patient. Whether that link is in place can make all the difference as to whether the doctor is able to diagnose a patient correctly, and whether the patient understands the doctor’s guidance. The line between mutual understanding or misunderstanding in health care for Syrian patients in Turkey can be very thin, and this is where the patient guides come in. Even body language has a substantial impact on what is communicated and how it is communicated”.

The patient guide perspective

Weso, Zehra and Fatistooglu feel they have benefited greatly from the training they received for their patient guide role.

“Without mutual understanding, some patients could face dire consequences. For example, a misunderstanding regarding simple dietary restrictions for a patient before an operation might lead to serious problems if the doctor’s advice is not followed correctly,” explains Weso. “After successful completion of their treatment, patients often shower us with compliments and hugs. Although this is a very demanding job, when I see that I am part of a healing process, I feel very happy.”

Zehra agrees. He works at a state hospital in Kilis, in the south-eastern part of Turkey, close to the Syrian border, where over 115 000 Syrians under temporary protection reside.

“Miscommunication can mean serious problems. These trainings have increased my experience, and I am now better equipped to detect problems and convey both the needs of patients and the health service providers,” says Zehra. “Misunderstandings need to be resolved before they become an issue obstructing treatment.”

Fatistooglu works in Sanliurfa, home to more than 425 000 registered Syrian refugees. She says she found the medical terminology classes to be particularly helpful. “As a patient guide, you don’t want to miss anything, or make errors because of technical terminology. I remember a former patient of mine, who had sought treatment for close to a year but had not been diagnosed correctly,” says Fatistooglu.

With her help, the patient could be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and receive appropriate treatment. “When I met with the patient, I immediately noticed that she had been misdiagnosed due to a gap in communication. These trainings will help us become even better at our jobs.”

“Improved access to health services for Syrian refugees in Turkey” project

Syrian crisis: WHO’s response in and from Turkey