Health: Joining forces

Cross-border cooperation on health is in progress on Greece’s northern borders. The project is part of Interreg III, a European Union initiative to foster balanced development through cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation, especially by integrating remote areas and those which share external borders with EU candidate countries. Four Cross-Border Public Health Centers (DIKEDY) in the prefectures of Ioannina, Florina, Serres and Evros are becoming shields against epidemics and infectious diseases on either side of the border, and forming health service links with Albania and Bulgaria. Another two DIKEDY – in Kato Nevrokopi (Drama) and Polykastro (Kilkis) – will soon be added to the existing centers in Konitsa, Ioannina, Florina, Promachona (Serres) and Diakaion (Evros). The Polykastro DIKEDY will develop cooperation with health services in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Meanwhile, progress has been made on future cooperation with Turkey. The centers are in urgent need of trained staff, according to Polykastro Mayor Dimitris Koulinas, who believes that the DIKEDY to be housed in the Polykastro center should also employ experts on environmental pollution. Interreg focuses on supporting border areas that face special public health problems, promoting cooperation between bordering countries on research, training, exchange of experience and the creation of DIKEDY. The first DIKEDY were created in 1998, at a time of great changes in countries that share borders with Greece. Incomes were falling, economic migration was growing and public health was deteriorating. But a series of problems – finding trained staff, the existence of multiple agencies operating under different bureaucratic regimes, the subsequent establishment of regional health centers in Greece, as well as overlapping responsibilities and, above all, the funding gap due to delays in announcing the projects – meant that the DIKEDY could not operate as originally planned. However, the centers have taken initiatives with the support of the National Public Health School and developed joint action with the public health services of Albania and Bulgaria to form the core of a Balkan network devoted to improving health. There is an emphasis on infectious diseases (AIDS, hepatitis, polio, diphtheria and meningitis), control of the pollution of border lakes and rivers by chemical and other waste, measuring the effect of waste disposal on the environment, and the monitoring and control of diseases transmitted by animals or animal products (such as brucellosis, leishmania and echinococcus). The DIKEDY in Evros took timely action when research it had conducted indicated a high incidence of hepatitis; health services in Greece and Bulgaria took preventive measures. The Florina DIKEDY solved the problem of potable water for 30-40 communities by purchasing an automatic chlorinating mechanism for 500 euros. In Serres, DIKEDY joined with the prefecture and Bulgarian health services to combat mosquitoes and other insects which carry diseases. While Albania and Bulgaria have public health centers and carry out epidemiological studies, they lack expertise in the latest methods and here Greece is able to make a significant contribution. Development program National Public Health School Director Professor Ioannis Kyriopoulos, who is in charge of DIKEDY, told Kathimerini that 390 health professionals from Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, covering a wide range of specializations, participated in the Interreg program. Also involved were a considerable number of international health organizations. Under the program, 126 researchers completed 76 studies on health risks and implementing measures, 194 health professionals from border areas underwent training, and 105,400 leaflets on health issues were distributed. Kyriopoulos said that a plan to reorganize and develop DIKEDY was under way. The centers will be incorporated as units in local health centers, will be staffed by trained personnel and become computerized so as to operate effectively across borders. New DIKEDY will go into operation directly in Xanthi, and later in Mytilene, Rhodes and Crete.

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