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Right to Health in Greece nowadays

Interview to Christos Sideris from the Metropolitan Community Clinic of Helleniko
At the beginning of the new year we decided to look back to the torrid summer months and to the hectic succession of news running through the thin stretch of sea separating us from Greece.
We found us recalling those July days when the little peninsula in the Aegean Sea and its citizens returned to be, as thousands of years ago, the epicenter of Europe, opening a deep international debate about the EU's meaning and role, claiming the dignity and the freedom of an entire country.
A few months after the signing of the new memorandum, medias are not talking anymore about the Greek situation, but the complicated socio-economic conditions seem to be far from solved.
That's why we decided to interview Christos Seris, member of the Metropolitan Community Clinic of Helleniko, a few kilometers from Athens, to try to understand better the current Greek state, especially with regard to the Right to Health.
  • Let's start from the beginning, would you like to explain what is it the MKIE, what is it about, how it was born and on which principles it is based?
The Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko, or MCCH provides free primary medical care and medication to all uninsured, unemployed and needy patients regardless of who they are or where they come from. The goal of the Metropolitan Community Clinic is to serve people, but its volunteers have no illusion that they can replace the Greek national health care system (nor do they wish to). We strive for a public health care system that provides high quality services and is open to all. Cardiologist George Vichas first had the idea of creating a volunteer run community clinic in 2011. He and a small group of six people met in early 2011, a few months before the demonstrations in Syntagma square began in the spring of the same year. As the disruptions that took place that summer, this small group grew and the idea began to take shape to actively resist the dismantling of the Greek public health care system. The words of Mikis Theodorakis triggered the effort. To a small group of people shortly before a concert in September 2011, he said: “No Greek should go hungry, no Greek should be left without a doctor.” Dr. Vichas and the volunteers approached the Helliniko – Argyroupoli municipality, which decided to actively assist in making this idea a reality. They granted the volunteers access to a building and provided basic utilities. The small initial group grew larger along the way. MCCH moved in during the fall of 2011 and we haven’t looked back since.
Our volunteers now number more than 280 and include a growing number of doctors, dentists, pharmacists, therapists and support staff. We are treating an ever growing number of patients, at times more than 100 per day. Moreover, MCCH provides psychological support to the unemployed, as well as baby food and other basic baby needs, all free of charge. All medicine and various items are donations from fellow citizens with the urge to stand by those in need during the economic crisis that we are all going through.
MCCH was built and runs on three core principles:
1) We do not accept monetary donations from anyone.
2) We do not allow any political party to be involved in clinic operation or activities.
3) We do not promote anyone or allow anyone to promote themselves for any donation made.
The clinic is not funded by anyone (other than its operating expenses being covered by the Helliniko – Argyroypoli municipality). Volunteers and friends of the clinic organize an annual bazaar which covers some of our needs. Additionally, we gladly accept gifts of medication or goods or volunteer labor. This ensures our autonomy and independence. We value transparency at every level. All major non-medical decisions are taken collectively in a general assembly of the volunteers.
  • May you explain how did it come out the necessity of founding and carry on daily a structure like the MKIE?
All our staff are volunteers, thus we rely 100% on volunteer work in order to provide all the required services to our patients. Our structure has grown from an initial group of 60 people, back in December 2011, to more than 280 nowdays. It has not been an easy task to organize all these people, but we managed to not only do a good job in helping our patients but to spread in Europe the message about solidarity as well as the reasons why our patients have become insured, thus put political pressure on our government as well as the EU. Our group does not have any leaders or presidents. The complete organizational structure is flat and all important decisions are taken by our assemply, which has drawn out all the rules that need to be followed by all the volunteers.
  • Do other structures similar to yours exist all around Greece?
Our clinic was the first one to open in the Athens area, the 2nd one nationwide. At the moment there are more than 12 community clinic and community pharmacies in the Athens area, and 40 around Greece.
  • How many people addressed to the MKIE and took benefit by its services during these years?
Our clinic has been running for the past 4 years. On these 4 years we have helped more than 6,000 patients on 47,000 occassions.
  • Would you like to explain the social and economic general conditions that Greek people is passing through actually?
Our country is in the economic crisis for 7 years, out of which for 5 years under strict austerity policies. The social and economic conditions in Greece are so harsh that about 60% of the polulation lives either below the poverty line or very close to it.
  • And what abouth the condition of the Right to Health?
3 million Greek people are excluded from access to medical services and medicines simply because they cannot afford to pay. Litteraly due to the harsh economic conditions, people are denied access to medical services, otherwise they have to accept a medical bill being transfered as public debt to the tax office. Many people choose not accept such costs and as a result they die.
  • Reminding of what happened in Greece last summer, in June and July, reminding of the referendum and the following events, do you feel like a chance to start a change in Greece and in the whole UE has been wasted? And how did the scenario in Greece change after the signature of the memorandum?
Unless austerity ends, nothing will change in Greece. Because of the huge budget cuts that have been imposed on the Greek national health system (we are talking about more than 50% reduction since 2009) many public hospitals cannot even afford to buy medicines for their patients. So, nothing will change unless we reverse these policies. For these policies to change the EU/IMF/European Central Bank attitudes need to change.
  • How do you feel about the future in Greece? Do you think there is hope for the European countries living now a critical phase?
Our future is bleak under strict control of the Troika. What European people need to understand is that these policies being applied in Greece will soon find their way to other European countries. We have a big experiment that is being done in this country and if this experiment is allowed to continue then it will spread everywhere. Our social rights are under threat and we need to defend them at all costs. These past years the European Union / IMF / European Central bank have put as top priority to help the “financial markets” and their banks, not the European people. If these priorities are not reversed then we will continue to see people dying at the expense of saving the banks nad the “financial markets”.
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