Saturday, 13 June 2015

Greece Succeeds in European Public Health! : What will happen now?

"It is regrettable that here where the goddess Hygiene flourished, no attention is paid to the science of public health" Constantine Savas [1907] who in 1905, proposed the establishment of a School of Public Health.

The Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region [ASPHER, Brussels] with a unanimous and Greek-friendly decision chose Athens to celebrate its 50th Anniversary on the European stage in May 2016. Witness to the decision in Jerusalem were representatives of the World Health Organization, the European CDC, the World Federation of Associations of Health, the African Association as well as important personalities from Alma Ata, Australia, Canada, America and other important Institutions.

The Celebration for public health will be conducted by the National School of Public Health [NSPH, formerly Athens School of Hygiene] under the aegis of the Hellenic Ministry of Health. The School is a founding member of the Association [1966], which once again, demonstrated its special consideration for the "Hellenic School", recognizing not only its uniqueness in Greece but its important role in Europe and in the Balkans.

The School aims to repeat the success of the 14th General Assembly [GA] of the Association [1992]. The GA took place in the Plaka, in the Goulandri-Horn Foundation beneath the Acropolis and next to the Tower of the Winds. It was accompanied both by Greek wines and music of Mimis Plessas. Mimis provided inspiring insights into Greek music and a recital for human rights and public health. The GA was the recipient of valuable support and contributions from Mrs. Niki Goulandri who provided the visitors with a marvelous museum experience. Dimitri Horn accompanied Mimis Plessas who was introduced as the Laurence Olivier of Greece. Informative high-level talks were given by Academician George Merikas on Greek Mythology and by Anna Psarouda Benaki on educational culture, former minister, Speaker of Parliament and Transparency International. A Forum on Public Health in the Balkans was conducted with participants from the entire region.

International institutions present were the World Health Organization [Copenhagen and Geneva], the European Union [DGV and XIII], the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Peace of the United Nations. In 1992, the Assembly had the support of the George Sourlas former Minister of Health and Speaker of Parliament and Marietta Gianakou, former Minister of Health and EuroMP.

The Hellenic School was founded by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos with the involvement of important personalities such as Apostolos Doxiadis, [who diagnosed Spanish flu in Greece], and Alexander Pappas [personal physician of the Prime Minister]. Its aims then and now are to strengthen Greek scientific culture by developing postgraduate programmes for engineers, doctors, nurses, public health specialists and managers of health and social services within an autonomous institution. It cultivated research and a link to the international community within a framework of the League of Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation.

As a consequence, Greece set in motion a short-lived but effective revolution in public health. It resulted in the eradication of malaria, the control of tuberculosis and dramatic gains in longevity and a steep of drop in child mortality. The ultimate outcome was national development, the emergence of Greece as a modern state and its entry into the league of developed nations.

The School has often been referred to as the Greek Lighthouse of public health with a beam that never failed, although it was dimmed during the Colonel’s dictatorship. On one visit to the School the Minister of Health dismissed the professor and took over of a class in a dictatorial style.

When first launched, the School was considered elitist and unnecessary by a large part of academia. When Constantine Karamanlis made it’s rejuvenation a priority on his return from exile in France [1974] the academic world delayed its reopening and continues to stymie its function. Few politicians have understood the needs for a School of Public Health and even fewer have been willing to do something about it. Over its nine decades the School has remained a lighthouse, but often it was more like a boat tossed in a political storm.

The shipping news of today is that the NSPH has scored a significant success for Greece . Today refugees are an enormous challenge Greek public health and the situation in Syria is not without risk to Greece, which is ill prepared to respond to emerging disasters. A Greek child born today will have a lower life expectancy than a child born in the developed world, a result of the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

It should not be forgotten that at the time of its birth, the health of the Greek population was worse than the health of the people in Brazil and that Greece was overwhelmed with an influx of more than a million refugees from Asia Minor and totally shut down for months as a result of a pandemic of dengue fever that came from Syria.

The celebration of ASPHER in Athens [2016] will act as a catalyst for the improvement of the NSPH and to constrain the humanitarian health disaster, an unprecedented affair. A unique event to pay tribute to the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region at 50 will be conducted by a unique School, the NSPH. It needs the support of the official Greek authorities and all those who recognize the dangers ahead.

Surely, the celebration of ASPHER in Athens will trigger achievements as in the days of Eleftherios Venizelos when the School was first inaugurated and those of Constantine Karamanlis when he rejuvenated it after the dark days of dictatorship.

Professor Dr. Jeffrey Levett
National School of Public Health, Greece and European Center for Peace and Development, Serbia

It is envisaged that the under development program CELEBRATING ASPHER’s FIRST HALF CENTURY, ATHENS 25-27 MAY 2016 will include aspects of patient human rights, human security and health diplomacy. Under discussion is a project on public health as a tool for resilience building and human security.

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