Meet Dimitris Protogiros

Dimitris © Demetrios Protogiros, 2020

Dimitris © Demetrios Protogiros, 2020

He’s a newly hired healthcare professional working at one of mobile testing units in the wider Athens area. Dimitris and his colleagues are providing voluntary, free of charge coronavirus tests for everyone. Mobile units have also been set up at airports and land borders to test those coming into the country.

One of the greatest benefits of the mobile teams is that they can visit remote areas on the Greek mainland and on islands where medical infrastructure is sometimes limited. They also provide testing and nursing assistance for people who can’t leave the house to visit testing sites, such as the elderly or disabled in care homes, or those in refugee facilities.

So far, mobile units have carried out the vast majority of coronavirus tests in the country. This has also been vital for identifying asymptomatic carriers of the virus and ensuring they self-isolate.

“We carry out daily checks, provide care to those who need it, and, at the same time, inform people about how to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Mobile testing site in Greece © National Public Health Organisation, 2020

Mobile testing site in Greece © National Public Health Organisation, 2020

Greek recruitment drive

To have a chance of combating the virus, Greece acted fast, with EU support. The mobile units were equipped with personal protection equipment and testing materials, and the coronavirus helpline was staffed with 100 new administrators, trained to report suspected cases and dispatch the mobile health units across the country.

Then, the project grew. By the end of 2020, more than 1 million mobile tests had been conducted in over 32,000 missions across Greece. And over 1,300 healthcare professionals, drivers and administrators had been hired to manage the mobile health units programme and run the helpline.

“This programme has provided jobs in a key sector that was understaffed at the beginning of the crisis. From the first moment I started working on the mobile health units, the support and guidance from the people in charge of the programme was extraordinary.”

Mobile testing team in Greece © National Public Health Organisation, 2020

Mobile testing team in Greece © National Public Health Organisation, 2020

The vaccine hope

After their success in testing, the mobile medical units are moving on to the next stage of the coronavirus fight: vaccination. Since January 2021, they have been vaccinating residents and employees of nursing homes, as well as those in care facilities and rehabilitation centres.

So far, thanks to them, over 16,000 people, and counting, have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Vaccination at care facility in Thessaloniki © National Public Health Organisation, 2021

Vaccination at care facility in Thessaloniki © National Public Health Organisation, 2021

European health union

For Dimitris, EU funding for the mobile medical units has been fundamental both in the management of the pandemic and to support the vaccination rollout.

“EU support has been very important because it has prevented an overburdening of hospitals and medical centres around the country.”

Panagiotis Arkoumaneas with mobile units © National Public Health Organisation, 2020

Panagiotis Arkoumaneas with mobile units © National Public Health Orgaanisation, 2020

EU financial aid has come in the right way and at the right time, claims Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, president of Greece’s National Public Health Organisation (EODY). But there’s also something to be said for European solidarity.

“By exchanging strategies, results and advice with other EU countries, we have become a team that is collectively working together towards containing coronavirus,” says Panagiotis.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of working together in times of crisis. This is why the EU is committed, more than ever, to building a European Health Union. It will strengthen coordination among countries, crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats – and, ultimately, offer better protection to citizens. Beyond the crisis, the Health Union will also help to ensure that medical supplies are available and affordable, and that EU countries work together to improve prevention, treatment and aftercare for diseases such as cancer.