OPINION

Countermeasures

Although it is not yet certain that the South African flight attendant who was yesterday taken to Athens’s Sismanogleio hospital has been hit by SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the news was enough to trigger a wave of fear among the Greek people. In truth, everyone knows that Greece’s immunity to the deadly virus so far is a product of coincidence. In a time of globalization, everything travels fast, and viruses are no exception to the rule. In other words, foolproof protection is virtually impossible. However, one can still take strict measures to trace and isolate suspected cases in specially designed chambers. At this level, the picture is rather blurred. On the one hand, there are the reassuring remarks by the health minister and the responsible authorities. On another level, the actual situation is not that encouraging. The surveillance measures at the country’s border crossings, airports and seaports do not appear to be adequate. In addition, most hospitals, including the Evangelismos in Athens, have yet to be equipped with negative pressure rooms and negative pressure intensive care units. People in the know point out that the measures taken so far by the authorities can be effective as long as the number of suspected cases remains low. But should the number of cases multiply, Greece’s defense line will crumble. In other words, neither the current infrastructure will do, nor will the national health system be in a position to deal with a national epidemic. The fear that has captivated Greek society could be a good starting point for taking protective measures at the individual level. Medical experts stress that we must take additional hygiene measures and change some of our everyday habits that could help spread the virus. Unfortunately, public concern has not lead to a change in personal attitudes. The spread of SARS is obviously connected to the spreading pattern of the virus globally, particularly in Europe. The World Health Organization is playing a central role in combating the threat, but the European Union must take its own measures. The EU constitutes a single unity, but it also has the administrative capability to coordinate national health bodies. It has the power and obligation to organize its own, second line of defense.