Language barrier leads to inequality for Kurds in accessing healthcare in Turkey
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Illnesses exist, medicine is accessible, but more services in the Kurdish language at hospitals and clinics across Turkey are still unavailable.
For decades, Kurds in Turkey have been at a disadvantage. Among those difficulties is access to their native tongue in the country’s healthcare system.
Ibrahim Yigit, a 65-year-old Kurd from the city of Mardin, lives in Istanbul. He often visits clinics and hospitals in the city, but the primary language spoken by the staff at these facilities is Turkish. Yigit says he is not well-versed in Turkish and, as a result, is unable to communicate his ailments to doctors effectively.
“A person who is allowed to communicate in their mother tongue can explain their illness from beginning to end,” he told Kurdistan 24. “As much as I try, I am unable to convey my exact sickness or the treatment I require to the physicians in Turkish.”
The 65-year-old said if the government provides services in his mother tongue or if a translator is available at the hospitals, then his dialogue with doctors can be more productive, his pain eased, and his illnesses treated quicker.
“I don’t know how to describe the pain I feel or the medicine that I need. If I visit a doctor who speaks Kurmanji [dialect of Kurdish], then it is easier to explain to them the treatment that I need based on my complaints.”
Yigit is only one of the millions of Kurds in Turkey who experience this inconvenience related to healthcare.
Dr. Tevfik Bayram, a public health specialist from the Kurdish province of Sirnak, recently presented his academic research about the inequality of healthcare in Turkey at an international conference in Antalya.
Bayram argued that because there are fewer services available in the Kurdish language, Kurds are less likely to visit hospitals, or they often visit too late, which leads to more severe illnesses.
“Previous studies have shown us that infant and maternal mortality is higher among those who do not know the Turkish language or whose native tongue is not Turkish,” he told Kurdistan 24.
According to their research, the public health specialist said that the language barrier forces Kurds in Turkey to be tied to a third party or rely on relatives to communicate for them, even when it comes to calling an ambulance.
“When they eventually visit a doctor, there is no two-way dialogue between the patient and doctor. Instead, it becomes a three-way dialogue, which can lead to miscommunication and loss of information,” Bayram explained.
“Sometimes, the one who accompanies the patient may be a relative, and the patient may be embarrassed to reveal all their illnesses and may hide certain things.”
Indeed, many Kurds who live in Turkey, especially the elderly, have called on the government to provide translators for them at hospitals, so they can convey their pains and receive the proper treatment.
One elderly Kurdish resident in Istanbul told Kurdistan 24 that he usually asks his son or daughter to accompany him to the doctors, but if they are unavailable, he is forced to go on his own.
“Of course, if I speak in my language, then I can defend myself better. It is always better if the doctor speaks your language, so there is no miscommunication,” he stated.
Another resident said he wants the Kurdish language to be more available in Turkey’s healthcare system. “I pray for that day and night,” he said. “My wish is that the Kurdish language is recognized.”
Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, who served as Turkey’s Minister of Health between 2013 to 2016, promised in 2013 that translators would be available for patients who do not speak Turkish. However, no practical steps have yet been taken to fulfill that promise.
(Additional reporting by Erçan Dag)