Lack of permanent doctor and infrequent winter ferry service leaves Anafi islanders vulnerable

A few weeks ago, a resident of the small southeastern Aegean island of Anafi went into anaphylactic shock, possibly due to a food allergy.

Her family flew into in a panic, calling friends and acquaintances, asking them what to do. One of them rushed to the pharmacy and got a shot of cortisone, but no one knew what to do with it. With his ear to the telephone and taking directions from a doctor on another island, her son injected his mother as she gasped for breath. He managed to save her with just minutes to spare.

The mayor of Anafi, Iakovos Roussos, has become cynical about the situation. The island has been without a doctor for months and the anxiety of its 270 permanent residents is further heightened by the fact that there is only one ferry service a week to Anafi from Piraeus, weather permitting. Even reaching Santorini, just a few kilometers away, is difficult in stormy weather, common during the winter months.

“What can we do? Shut down the port entirely? [The ferry companies] would probably be delighted,” Roussos told Kathimerini. “It would mean they would never have to come.”

Local authorities and residents of Anafi have repeatedly complained to officials in Athens about the situation, but they do not appear to be getting through. After the island’s only doctor, a resident doing his rural service, was appointed to the hospital on the island of Syros, the medical center on Anafi was left with a staff of just one nurse, who would call doctors in other parts of the country to deal with medical situations that she could not cope with alone. But she also eventually resigned, and the people of Anafi now have no direct access to even the most rudimentary healthcare.

“We get a doctor here for about 10 days a month. They rotate and come from Kythnos, Mylos or Ios. The rest of the days we have no doctor and no medicines, as the doctors who do come here every once in a while don’t think to bring medicine with them,” said Roussos.

For something as simple as a blood test, Anafi’s residents need to catch the ferry to Santorini, where they have to wait for the next ferry back – a week later.

The island had two weekly routes until a month ago, when the contract between the shipping company and the ministry that subsidized the service expired on October 31 and wasn’t renewed.

Roussos recently wrote to almost all media outlets in Greece to call attention to the problem. In his letter he said that small islands like Anafi cannot possibly compete for subsidies with transportation networks in cities, which receive the lion’s share of funds.

“The issue of transport should be fair and should be resolved without our cries of despair,” Roussos wrote.

The mayor of the beleaguered island issued a warning a few days ago from a local radio station to the government in Athens, saying that his constituents are prepared to take extreme action to be heard. What was the response from the relevant ministries?

“That we’re right to complain,” said Roussos. “And that is the most tragic thing of all.”

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