ATHENS – Mocking Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who donned a tie to celebrate a debt relief deal with the country’s international creditors, Greek hospital workers from the union POEDIN blocked the entrance to the Finance Ministry to protest ongoing budget cuts under the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition.
They carried banners showing ties in a dig at Tsipras who has gone back on his word to improve health care as he did in reneging on anti-austerity promises. Yelling anti-austerity slogans, the protesters kept workers from entering the building and demanded the revocation of pay cuts and the full-time hiring of workers on short-term contracts.
With Greek health facilities struggling in the face of repeated budget cuts as part of austerity demanded by international lenders in return for bailouts, and getting help from Diaspora foundations, the World Health Organization has opened an office in the country.
WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab were present for the official ceremony.
A year ago, during a meeting of the WHO European Region governing body in Budapest, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that, “people need a global understanding that protecting human dignity and health is not a privilege or a luxury,” without referring to cuts for hospitals SYRIZA has imposed, leaving some facilities without even toilet paper.
At the time, he met the Ghebreyesus and Jakab and invited them to Greece to officially launch the WHO Country Office and discuss future collaboration without saying what the group’s role would be.
“The establishment of the WHO Country Office in Greece strengthens significantly 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,” Greek Health Minister Andreas Xanthos said.
In March this year, the British newspaper The Times said hospitals across Greece were employing plumbers as radiographers to administer treatment to cancer patients after eight years of austerity cuts to public health services.
Medics said that cost-saving measures imposed at the demand of international creditors had raised mortality rates and increased life-threatening infections.
Constantinos Georgiadis, President of the federation of radiology technicians, said: “This cannot be happening while qualified staff, able to handle these specialised tasks at state hospitals, are fleeing to Germany and elsewhere in Europe in search of jobs.The state has to act fast to address this grave matter. Patient safety is at risk.”