IPHU-Thessaloniki on 26 November, 2013
In Greece, health insurance is linked to employment and 30% of the Greek population is unemployed. Today we visited the Solidarity Clinic, set up in response to the increasing number unable to access institutional healthcare services.
The clinic is in the ‘rough’ part of town. It is on the first floor of an apartment building that has been loaned by a labour organisation. As we walk up the stairs we see patients waiting on plastic chairs and are met by the smell of the disinfectant. The volunteer receptionist (all the staff here are volunteers), shows us to the appointment book which is full, and to the neatly filed patient notes. In the past 2 years the clinic has treated over 15,000 patients.
The clinic is open 6 days a week and runs a morning and afternoon session. There are daily general practice appointments, dental and maternity services. Each day a different medical specialty is also offered, including psychiatry, neurology, paediatrics and oncology.
We are shown through to the pharmacy where the room is walled with shelves of medications; “All the medications are given to us as donations… often it is when people have medications left over that they bring them in… a lady with cancer died recently and her family has brought in the remainder of her chemotherapy”.
This is not ideal. However, the worsening economic and political situation in Greece means that clinics like this are lifelines for many of the Greek population.
The health system has been subject to structural reform responding to memoranda from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. 20 billion euros must be saved. There have been significant hospital closures and reductions in bed numbers. Gaining access to health services has a cost- once 3 euros and rarely enforced, now rising to 25 euros. Costs spiral with treatment. Delivering a baby SVD costs 900 euros; 1500 by caesarean section. We heard anecdotes of women who aren’t allowed to take their babies home until bills are settled.
The clinic is political in its origins and its continued message of solidarity, antifascism and anti-austerity is clear. In January 2011, 300 immigrants in Greece went on hunger strike for a total of 48 days in protest of the possibility of deportation. The clinic was set up to provide medical care for these migrants unable to access healthcare without official papers. The demographic of the patients at the Solidarity Clinic has shifted since 2011, with Greeks making up 75% of those now attending.
The clinic is not an NGO and not a charity. The money required to run it, mostly to pay for vaccines and new equipment, is raised through personal donations and fundraising events such as concerts and exhibitions. The government and police have targeted similar clinics recently. One in Athens, was raided and accused of smuggling illegal drugs. The Solidarity Clinic has issued a press release in response to the thought that “all centers that produce anomy must close”; it is an accurate summary of the feelings of those we met today.
We are “illegal” for the last 2 years for having supported more than 10.000 uninsured patients by providing health services and medications without asking from anyone their permission.
We are “illegal” because we do so without money.
We are “illegal” because we oblige only to the code of medical ethics.
We are “illegal” because we are accountable only to our consciousness, our patients and the society.
We are “illegal” because we fight against to humiliation and death.
We are “illegal” because we believe that Health is a major social good and not a commodity.
Those last actions, reminding of totalitarian regimes, clearly demonstrate that the red line is crossed.
They want to eliminate hope.
They want to destroy everything that keeps us united.
They hate life.
They will face us all, volunteers, patients, civilians, in the opposite side.
We will defend life and dignity.
We will fight against death.