European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Greece: accompanying refugees to hospitals

Ahmed walks together with Andrianna and Haji inside a Greek public hospital. Ahmed is very worried as he has not seen a doctor for a long time.
Ahmed (left) walks together with Andrianna (centre) and Haji (right) to a Greek public hospital. Ahmed is very worried as he has not seen a doctor for a long time. © Vangi/CARE

One of the biggest obstacles that refugees and asylum seekers face in their daily life in Greece is the language barrier. Not being able to communicate with local people causes major problems to their integration and interaction with authorities and public services. When their health is at stake, clear communication is essential. The European Commission' Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department is funding CARE to support and guide them in their visits to the hospital. 

Dora Vangi, Communications Officer at CARE Greece

By Dora Vangi, Communications Officer at CARE Greece @CAREGlobal

Can you imagine how it feels to be in a hospital and listen to doctors talking in a language that you don’t understand? On the other hand, can you imagine how it feels to be a doctor who cannot get across the simple but essential question, “What is the problem?”

Andrianna, a social worker, and Haji, an interpreter, both work for CARE’s local partner PRAKSIS. They play the essential role of mediators in order to facilitate the communication between refugees and doctors in such cases.

They accompany approximately three patients to different hospitals every day, but sometimes they might have to escort more than eight people per day who need immediate help. Each appointment takes a minimum of two hours, depending on the case. They visit every kind of hospital, from pregnancy clinics to general hospitals for routine tests or specialised departments for cancer, HIV and other severe cases.

“Once we had to accompany a pregnant woman to the hospital as an emergency case. It turned out that her baby was in danger and she had to be hospitalised. She was eight months pregnant. After a few days, the doctor decided she needed a C-Section. We were there and it was really intense. I remember we stayed until the end and it is one of my favorite memories since I started working in this project.

Her husband couldn’t be there on time and when she saw us waiting outside her room, she hugged us and said ‘You are my family here.’ She thanked us. I cannot even describe the feeling. Sometimes we are lucky enough to witness priceless moments like that one," Andrianna and Haji explain.

“It is a very rewarding job because you can see the impact of your actions immediately.”

Ahmed, a 30-year-old man from Pakistan, had to visit the hospital to arrange an examination for psoriasis and Hepatitis C. He was diagnosed in Pakistan but he hadn't had the chance to visit the doctor until recently. In the hospital’s office he remains silent but you can see the anguish in his eyes. He turns to Haji, the interpreter, and asks him in Urdu, “How bad is it?” He is ready to shed tears.

It is ok. Calm down. The doctor is writing what kind of tests you have to run before we arrange the next steps.” Haji comforts him with his words and pats him on the back. “You need to eat well. Can you describe a daily meal?" says the doctor. Ahmed looks down and replies that most of the time he eats whatever he finds.

Andrianna goes through his papers and arranges the next steps with the doctor. He needs additional tests to check the level of Hepatitis C in his blood and he will be treated for the psoriasis.  Andrianna explains the procedure to Ahmed, while Haji does the interpretation. Ahmed’s papers from previous medical tests and prescriptions are piled up on the doctor’s desk but Andrianna knows exactly what needs to be done.

Andrianna and Haji wait with a nervous Ahmed in the waiting room of a Greek public hospital in Athens. They are there to calm him down and explain the bureaucratic procedures.

Andrianna and Haji wait with a nervous Ahmed in the waiting room of a Greek public hospital in Athens. They are there to calm him down and explain the bureaucratic procedures. © Vangi/CARE

“This service is one of the most important components of the CARE and PRAKSIS joint project. It is extremely useful for both refugees and doctors as it fills a gap in their communication. Public hospitals don’t have the capacity to provide this service and doctors often don’t know how to deal with a patient if they cannot communicate clearly what the issue is.

They appreciate the fact that there is someone who plays the role of the mediator as this ensures they can do their job well and treat the patient appropriately. In addition, our role is to explain to both the doctor and the patient the bureaucratic procedure behind all the examinations or medicine prescriptions,” says Andrianna with a gentle smile. 

"It is a very rewarding job because you can see the impact of your actions immediately.”

The health issues that the teams have to deal with are diverse. However, regardless of the urgency of every case, doctors and other hospital staff have been extremely positive. They highlight the interpreters as a huge relief to their services, and the social workers as a patients’ advocate who can explain things and take on the task of navigating people in need through all the bureaucratic procedures. 

Last updated
27/09/2017