"The parents want to be sure that their kids are OK."
Mosaic Hospital in the centre of the Turkish city of Antakya was short of staff after the earthquakes in February 2023. Four specialists from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) stepped in and provided counselling for children and parents. Doctor Céline Ritter Schenk was a member of the team.
Céline Ritter Schenk examines a baby born during the night of the first quake of 6 February. © SDC
The emergency paediatrician Céline Ritter Schenk introduces herself in English to parents with a baby: "Hello, I'm Céline, the doctor." The baby was born on the night of 6 February, during which a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Antakya. The parents came to Mosaic Hospital in the city centre to have their child examined. Dr Ritter Schenk and her team weigh the baby, check its breathing, pulse, body tension, general appearance and reflexes. The infant is healthy, the Swiss doctor concludes.
"The children show the same symptoms as children in Switzerland at this time of year," says Ritter Schenk. She cites examples here including respiratory diseases and eye infections. "I see deeply unsettled and anxious parents who naturally want to make sure their kids are alright after the earthquakes."
Mosaic Hospital is near the old town. Although many of the buildings surrounding the hospital have collapsed or can no longer be lived in, the hospital itself has remained structurally stable. This private hospital specialises in treating women and children. Before the earthquake, it had 22 employees, and there were 9,000 consultations and 400 children born there each month. After the earthquakes of 6 February, most of the staff stayed away from work; either they themselves had been injured or they had to take care of relatives. Under the state of emergency, the Turkish authorities converted the private clinic into a public hospital. In the days following the quake, doctors from all over Türkiye came to volunteer at Mosaic. But then the earth shook again on 20 February with a magnitude of 6.4. Those remaining were so worried that Mehmet Fatih Toksöz, the hospital's director, decided to close it down for a week.
Two days later, on 22 February, Ritter Schenk and her team stepped in to fill the gap, with Pham admitting the patients and performing an initial triage. After nurse Rahel Montenegro and paramedic Thierry Spichiger had examined the children, Dr Ritter Schenk would attend to them. The specialists are deployed within the framework of the SDC's Humanitarian Aid Rapid Response Team and are part of the SHA's Mother and Child module.
The Mother and Child module was set up after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 to focus on care for children and pregnant persons in crisis situations. The SHA's medical expert group provides it with specialists and material.
Ritter Schenk sums up what she does: "We come into the picture when the hospital, like now, is short of staff." The 47-year-old, who works as a head physician at the cantonal hospital of Fribourg in addition to her humanitarian engagement, particularly appreciates the fact that those on the ground are not told how they have to function and work, but are given the time to pick their work back up.
69-year-old Mosaic Hospital director and paediatrician Mehmet Fatih Toksöz appreciates the cooperation: "They ask us what we need and deliver suitable material." He also appreciates the fact that the Swiss team is specialised and experienced. The biggest concern of the co-founder of Mosaic Hospital is to help the local people and to keep the hospital running.
On 6 February 2023, the earth shook in Türkiye and Syria with a magnitude of 7.8. Another quake on the same day reached 7.5. The natural disaster claimed over 50,000 lives and injured more than 100,000 people. The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million people have lost their homes and up to 500,000 houses and flats may have to be rebuilt. The Turkish authorities have reported that over 850,000 people have been living in tents and 23,500 in containers since the quakes. According to Türkiye's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, 10,000 aftershocks have been detected since 6 February. Another quake, on 20 February, reached a magnitude of 6.4.