Unsung heroes on COVID-19 frontline – pharmacists
Updated 16:59, 13-May-2020
By Michal Bardavid

In Turkey, as in many countries around the world, people have clapped in honor of medical workers. Doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19 are no doubt, facing the harshest conditions in hospitals and doing their best to treat patients as they put themselves at risk every day. But there is another group of professionals who are also the first responders to people who suspect they have been infected with the coronavirus - pharmacists.  

In Turkey, most civilians stay at home and do not go to hospitals unless showing severe symptoms of COVID-19, which has also been the suggestion by health officials.  

But during that time, many do consult pharmacists regarding their initial symptoms, making the precautions taken at pharmacies especially critical. The Turkish government has not standardized the precautions taken in pharmacies, so it's possible to come across a variety of measures taken by different pharmacies.  

Pharmacy covers cabinets with plastic sheets for protection in Istanbul. /CGTN

Pharmacy covers cabinets with plastic sheets for protection in Istanbul. /CGTN

For example, customers who want to enter the Mavi Pharmacy in Istanbul's Sariyer province are first met by a security officer, who makes sure a maximum of two people enter the pharmacy at a time.  

Once inside, customers are not able to touch or take any products – all the cabinets are covered with plastic sheets as part of the safety measures. The floors have been marked and line dividers placed for citizens to follow social distancing rules.  

Pharmacist Isil Kizilagacli says they also offer each customer Turkish cologne, which is a popular type of disinfectant across the country. She says she is aware that as long as the virus exists, there will be risks for pharmacists but by taking all the necessary measures they hope to reduce the risks to a minimum. She says her customers appreciate the steps they have taken for the benefit of the people.  

Customers waiting outside a pharmacy following social distancing in Istanbul. /CGTN

Customers waiting outside a pharmacy following social distancing in Istanbul. /CGTN

At a different pharmacy in Istanbul – Irem, the pharmacists have taken a different approach. Customers aren't allowed inside. Instead, pharmacist Serkan Selvi has placed a desk at the very front of the shop and delivers the products to the customers patiently waiting at the entrance.  

Selvi explains that pharmacists face risks on a daily basis as they come across some inconsiderate clients. He personally knows many of the regulars as they are people who live in the neighborhood. 

"Some people come here and queue even though their quarantine time has not been completed ... But we know that the person has been infected, or has an infected relative, we warn them to keep their social distance, that way we prevent them from spreading it to other people," he told CGTN. 

As a father of two, Selvi says he generally feels safe, but still feels the need to protect his family when he returns home after a long day's work. He avoids close contact with them and eats his dinner alone in his own room.  

Selvi also says he is aware of the risk as he works at a pharmacy and comes face to face with infected people. He explains that one of the precautions he takes personally is making sure his immune system remains strong. "I pay attention to the food and drinks I'm consuming. I take vitamins but I'm especially trying to consume natural vitamins by eating a lot of vegetables and fruits," he said.   

Though dozens of them have been infected with COVID-19, pharmacists such as Selvi and Kizilagacli remain committed to their jobs. To keep them safe, the Turkish government has also been providing weekly disinfection services for pharmacies.