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WHO praises Greece for giving asylum seekers universal health coverage

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The Greek Government has taken steps to address the health of 60,000 migrants and refugees currently living in the country, by granting access to primary health care (PHC) services, coordinated for migrants and Greek citizens alike by the Ministry of Health.

The World Health Organisation has congratulated Greece on the effort.

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO’s Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, visited Greece in June at the invitation of the country’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, to inspect the implementation of a WHO-endorsed plan for refugee and migrant health.

WHO’s Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) program works to strengthen the capacity of countries’ public health services to deal with large influxes of migrants.

Speaking at a recent regional WHO meeting, Prime Minister Tsipras said the issue of access to health services was of critical importance because “protecting human dignity and health is not a privilege or a luxury”.

WHO has been working with Greece on a European Union-funded project to ensure that the reform plan follows WHO policy recommendations.

Dr Tedros congratulated Mr Tsipras for his commitment to universal health coverage, and to ensuring that all residents of Greece can access the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship.

“The investments Greece is making will generate a return not only in terms of better health, but also in terms of poverty reduction, job creation, inclusive economic growth and health security,” Dr Tedros said.

This approach means migrants can access medical support, as well as cultural mediation to ensure that services are appropriate. They are also guided in navigating the health system so that they can, for example, receive the medication they need to manage chronic conditions. Greece has invested in PHC, despite experiencing a severe financial crisis.

For the first time Greece has developed unified PHC services based on community PHC units. Known as TOMYs, these units are staffed with multidisciplinary teams of general practitioners, paediatricians, nurses, health visitors, social workers and administrative staff. TOMYs work in collaboration with already existing ambulatory care units, health centres that provide specialised, diagnostic and dental health-care services.

The first TOMY opened in Thessaloniki (Evosmos) in December 2017, and currently there are 94 units in operation. Each unit has a capacity to serve approximately 10,000 people, and they are likely to reach this capacity within a year.

Dr Jakab said: “Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Greek Ministry of Health, we have made significant efforts that will continue to contribute to improving the health of the Greek people, including the most vulnerable.”

WHO suggested to Greece that the TOMY teams map the health needs of the communities they serve.

Dr Tedros and Dr Jakab’s visit to Greece coincided with the official launch of the new WHO Country Office in Greece, which will facilitate collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders on national health priorities, as well as supporting multicountry cooperation programs. It is the 149th WHO country office worldwide, and the 30th in the European Region.

Dr Andreas Xanthos, Greece’s Health Minister, said that the establishment of the WHO Country Office in Greece significantly strengthens the country’s efforts towards universal health coverage and a sustainable and effective health system.

“This did not happen by chance – it is the result of a whole-of-government strong political commitment to upgrade our country’s cooperation with WHO,” said Dr Xanthos.