Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Greece after Obamaflair

Mr Obama visited Hellas with his earthly humanity, too late. With his warmth he conquered almost everyone but left without any noticeable change. He alluded to inequality, said that citizens come first and touched upon the character and freedom loving spirit of Greece driven by a force implicit in Greek behaviour, “filotomο”. He arrived with a key from the Greek-American Community that unlocked one secret life emanating from the universal shaping values of Western civilisation emergent from ancient Greece. Standing on the Acropolis and in the splendour of the Niarchus Center, he enthralled Greece while reaching out to the world. A day later Athens burned. In yet another Greek life, decay he may have seen as more and more Greek families are crisis affected

In that life, the tunnel of despair lengthens, its end-light dims. The health sector is running down, prevention is off the map, primary health care can’t get airborne and infant mortality is rising. To cover even its basics of life, electricity and water, schemes of multiple monthly payments [100, 36, 12, 5] are the norm. Greece is now a land of shameful instalments. The worst is yet to come and without remedial actions, it will come.

A baby born today leaves the womb with lower life expectancy than its parents. Life expectancy is falling faster in Greece than in the USA and more children are going hungry and many more elderly have to scramble for needed medications. Globalisation, provides some upward mobility but also enhances disparity.

The President’s coming certainly, brought an inspiring hymn to democracy in the land of its birth. He boosted the international recognition of Greece and gave it symbolic support. On exit he drew attention to the Greek debt without apportioning blame as to how the current situation arrived. Certainly, the Greek economy, will take additional and significant set backs if related tripartite discussions are not soon completed, which means now.

What was lacking from Barack Obama’s oratory in Greece was a small push for one of democracy’s dedicated social and scientific instruments, public health. It still remains an outsider in most developmental models. In Athens it received no mention, not even from a government that came to power touting humanitarian disaster, a result of austerity. Recent events in America will certainly affect global and regional population health. It will be accompanied by further mystification of climate change, more social exclusion, growth of population vulnerability and a further limited public health budget. Migrant asylum registration is difficult in Greece and Obamacare is running into trouble. America’s commitment to global health can fail and at a time when terrorism, which is a major public health problem takes on more horrifying dimensions.

The only antidote to check population vulnerability and inequality are global and regional developmental strategies within a new culture. It will need the strengthening of public health education, services and institutions as well as continuing education from cradle to third age and a more effective and equitable justice system. However, in Greece flurries of important public health activities usually fizzle out. While there are many doctor-politicians, health policy is always just around the corner and when it comes to public health, dogma is deceitful.

If any Greek government now or later chooses a new pathway, it must be equal to the short lived public health revolution precipitated by Eleftherios Venizelos [1929-34]. That revolution followed on from Spanish flu, an influx of one and a half million refugees and a bizarre pandemic of dengue fever. It catapulted Greece into the league of modern European nations and was held there as America recognised the contribution of Greece, when it gave the Allies its first WWII victory.

At home, Greece continues on its course of a closed system defying organisation and development. It persists in ineffectual governance with institutional autonomy and meritocracy buried deep in party politics. The political system continues to hide behind its secret sins while the intellectual elite avoid full subscription to a new narrative.

After lift-off, Airforce One and its envious in flight hospital, turned north. I don’t know whether the President mentioned the German WWII debt to Greece.
While in Greece Barack Obama’s demeanour reflected disappointment and concern for Greece as well as the current state of America. Certainly, the President’s humane presence and vast experience, his wisdom and philosophy will be sorely needed even as he puts one foot out of the White House.

In the land of Hygiene and once proud columns, the European Schools of Public Health celebrated their 50th Anniversary. It received little more than lip service from the Greek State [ASPHER, May, 2016]. This celebration for public health was hosted by an institution that is surviving Greek politics, namely, the National School of Public Health but for how long? A thoughtful statement made by the European Schools [Athens ASPHER Accord] elicited no comment not even from one Greek Member of the European Parliament. The Schools came to Athens and left just like the President. Worth noting is that the Athens School put a Balkan policy for public health into operation in the late nineteen eighties that still stumbles along. It has conducted many regional projects [Balkans, Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean] and implemented many bilateral projects with Albania, Bulgaria, Egypt, FYROM, Turkey. In the periphery it was aided by Greek diplomatic services while support from the center was always spasmodic. Among the many outcomes one was a proposal for the launching of a graduate level programme for health disaster management well before austerity

Simply sitting back hoping for the coming of another Statesman makes us observers to a Greece crumbling under the weight of non productive political rhetoric and as it is overwhelmed by refugees. Surely, while waiting for Godot, with nothing much being done by the European Union, it would be prudent to build resilience in the population by reinvigorating societal preparedness and public health.

Jeffrey Levett
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