Doctors of The World Greece Clinics: Meeting the challenges of two crises
In Greece, Doctors of the World is working to reduce the human and health impacts of two international crises. As its staff work to provide primary; sexual and reproductive; and mental health services to men, women and children in refugee camps all over the nation’s mainland and islands, it also operates clinics and units providing health care in eight locations in the state.
The centres – seven polyclinics at Athens; Piraeus; Thessaloniki; Patra; Chania; Perama; and Kavala, and one medical unit at Tilos – are open for everyone: refugees, immigrants, and Greek people who have been affected by the country’s severe economic crisis.
At the DotW polyclinic at Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city in the north of the state, Sofia Garane, its coordinator, explained: ‘We opened the polyclinic here in 2001. We used to treat mostly vulnerable groups -homeless, Roma, immigrants.
‘But in the last 5-6 years Greece faces economic problems, and the number of patients has really risen.
‘Now, 60-70 per cent of people we see are Greeks, who are uninsured, unemployed and poor. And there has been a big rise of refugees who stay in camps and in the cities. Because of word of mouth, people came to us and told others. People know the polyclinic works because people told one another about it.
‘The DotW teams in the field often refer people here, and so do other camps and other NGOs. We have many specialists they do not have in the camps.’
‘We see 1,500 people per month here,’ Ms Garane explains. ‘They are people who cannot get even Primary Health Care examinations, or medicines – Greek people as well as refugees.
‘Of course, this is not how we started out. We began with five doctors, now we have 54 doctors that operate in the clinic and many more external medical staff collaborating with us, reaching a total of 180 medical staff. We have a clinic with seven consultation rooms, and our specialists can refer people for extra treatment where it’s necessary. But we have been in Greece for 26 years. We have gained the love and trust of the people here, and part of that is because when there is a need – like now – we have stepped up to meet it.’
The clinic’s staff – including doctors, nurses, specialists in diabetes, urologists, paediatricians – are largely volunteers, many of whom have their own practices in Thessaloniki but give up a few hours a week to help DotW provide a free service for Greek people, refugees and others in need.
‘In Greece, that’s what we do. When the economic crisis started, people gave time, effort, donations. We do rely on donations. Then it happened to refugees, and people responded and reacted again. I have been working here for the last 12 years. And I have seen more people coming to help out in the last 5-6 years than ever – a huge increase in the numbers of Greeks as well as refugees.’
There are around 20,000 refugees in and around Thessaloniki, and Ms Garane notes their own recognition of the economic crisis into which they have arrived, saying: ‘When the borders closed, everything changed. I think from speaking to refugees here, that was when their eyes opened to something bad. It was as if they saw the real face of Europe, that Europe didn’t want them.
‘The more refugees you talk to, the more you understand that as they have stayed here, they have learned more about the economic crisis. They didn’t know this when they arrived, and are really surprised how kind people have been. Many now want to try to help. I think everybody should speak to the refugees, find out about their lives and what they want now.’