Turkey's 'most knowledgeable' coronavirus expert sidelined

One of Turkey’s most qualified scientific experts on the coronavirus is being sidelined in Turkey, said The National newspaper on Wednesday.

Mustafa Ulaşlı, who spent more than a decade researching coronaviruses, was among thousands of academics purged from their jobs in the wake of a failed coup in 2016. Ulaşlı was accused of having ties to the banned Gülen movement, which the government blames for the coup. He had graduated from a Gülenist-linked university in 2002. 

The case against him was dropped in 2017. Yet Ulaşlı remains out of work and says the government has ignored his request to help combat the outbreak in Turkey, even as the number of cases and the death toll from the virus steadily rises. 

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 15 more deaths of people from the COVID-19 coronavirus and announced 561 new cases, raising the total number of people confirmed of being infected to 2,433 and the number of deaths to 59.

Ulaşlı described himself to The National as “probably” the most knowledgeable person on coronavirus in Turkey, yet now he can only contribute his expert opinion through social media. 

“I have a PhD in this field and I’m ready to make any kind of contribution,” he told The National. “I don’t want to make any political point. The urgent matter is the pandemic. The important thing is we have to act and I just want to contribute.”

Ulaşlı began researching coronaviruses in 2007, when he started his PhD on the molecular behaviour of the virus group at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He previous studied at Princeton University in the United States.

Ulaşlı returned to Turkey after completing his research at Utrecht in 2011, and took up a post as a medical geneticist at Gaziantep University. “I had the opportunity to stay in the Netherlands or America, to apply for citizenship, but I returned to help my country,” he said.

The opposition MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu has called on Health Minister Fahrettin Koca to reinstate Ulaşlı and 15,000 other health workers sacked in similar decrees who could help with research and treatment of the coronavirus.

“I reminded him that Dr Mustafa Ulaşlı’s unproductive situation is one of thousands of health workers who have waited for months to offer a necessary service,” Gergerlioğlu told The National.