How is the Greek health system unique

Greece: A health system saved to death

The doctor Giorgos Vichas runs a practice in which the needy are treated free of charge. He sees the initiative as a “resistance group” and “emergency system”.

The ground floor building of the health center is a tiny spot on the huge area of ​​the abandoned Athens airport Elliniko in the south of the city. Here Giorgos Vichas founded a social doctor's practice in 2012 for the pariah of the Greek crisis: uninsured sick people with no money in their pockets. To date, the cardiologist and his colleagues at the “Kommunale Soziale Ärztepraxis Elliniko” (MKI) have looked after more than 43,000 people - and have literally seen everything.

Today, Monday, Vichas will speak at the Forum Alpbach as part of the health talks about social practice and the "deadly consequences of austerity policy" in Greece. The doctor can tell a lot about inequality, the general topic of the forum. Incidentally, in October it will also have an international appearance: MKI receives the “European Citizens' Prize” from the European Parliament.

In an interview with the “press”, Vichas is very sociable - but in his cause he is radical: “We are a resistance group. We are an emergency structure, ”he says. One is not an aid organization, no substitute for the health system. “It's like being a doctor on the street, giving someone first aid. I would be interested in nothing else, ”says Vichas. He means that literally: MKI has not adopted any legal form, not even as an association. There are no permits for the building or practice, nothing at all. Of course, only the 100 or so doctors, pharmacists and other helpers have to show their personal qualifications.

Money is not accepted

Money is not accepted either: “As a matter of principle, we do not accept donations. We only receive benefits in kind, ”explains Vichas. The biggest donors are a Hamburg initiative - and the “Greece Aid” from Erwin Schrümpf from Salzburg, who knows that his material is in good hands with the MKI. In an interview with the “press”, Schrümpf justified his commitment to the Greek doctor: “Vichas is a very extraordinary person. He does great things. "

But why did Vichas set up social practice at all? “I was a doctor at the Greek social security agency IKA and had a successful practice. With the crisis from 2010 onwards, more and more uninsured people came to my ordination who could no longer afford the treatment. Then I thought to myself that we have to do something. We have had patients in the center since autumn 2012. ”Vichas had to make sacrifices for his work:“ Soon only people came to my practice who wanted to be treated for free. I had to lock up, ”he says.

But who comes into social practice? Vichas: “In the beginning it was the poor from the communities of West Athens, Greek Roma, illegal immigrants. In the meantime we have a lot of self-employed, including former executives of international corporations, more and more patients are coming from the posh districts of Glyfada and Kifissia. but also citizens' groups that look after Syrian refugees who have just washed ashore on Lesbos.

But isn't there free care in public hospitals? “Free care is only available for examinations,” explains the doctor. “I had the case of a woman diagnosed with cancer. The examination was free - but not the treatment. ”She couldn't afford it. And so after eight months she came to Vichas' clinic. “I don't usually show the photo of her breast cancer sprawling. Maybe I will do it in Alpbach. A picture is worth a thousand words."

A few hospitals in Greece treat patients free of charge. And some achieve extraordinary things: "In the 'Sotiria' hospital, the staff in the operating theaters continue to work free of charge after the shift to look after the cancer patients we send them," says Vichas. "So we have been able to help everyone so far."

The statistics speak volumes: around three million Greeks - out of a population of eleven million people - are uninsured. Unemployed people, and with them their families, lose insurance cover after two years. Hundreds of thousands of self-employed cannot afford their social security contributions. And whoever goes bankrupt is not even entitled to unemployment benefits.

Vichas closes the conversation with a radical statement: “What was bad about the Greek system has been retained. What worked, destroyed. Recently they shattered primary care. The EU experts, whether from Brussels or Vienna, are doomed to failure - because they have no idea about our life, our system. "

>>> To the Alpbach resort