I have spoken several times in the past on World Health Day1 and as Dean and Professor of the late Athens School of Public Health, Greece that precipitated a short-lived revolution in public health (1929-34). Today, I write locked in the house in the pandemonium of the Coronavirus pandemic while listening to the Hippocratic Oath a symphonic oratorio and work of Thomas Bakalakou. Today, Greece is waging a great battle to protect the health of Greeks, both in the context of dealing with current and growing viral morbidity, which becomes more anthropogenic and in the general context of prevention of disease. In order for Greece to react fully, it must also fight for the greater use of Hippocratic philosophy and thought, which must be highlighted and made more prevalent worldwide.
In the face of an unprecedented crackdown on the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece is in a good state of affairs relative to the world. The pandemic has already left its mark on mortality and morbidity, degraded vulnerable communities and national health systems that have exceeded their operating limits. It already seems that there are people who know what is going on and know well the deep and serious issues that exist, which can easily be covered up or sidelined by politics. Highly qualified professionals, who do not accept over simplistic approaches, can cause insecurity to politicians. In America, Greece and elsewhere experts are providing simple algorithms to inform and convince both politicians and public alike with respect to their recommendations.
The relative success of Greece lies in, a just in time vigilance and a relatively rapid response of the official authorities having observed the worsening plight of Italy as the pandemic’s epicenter switched continents. The success is a shared one. It is distributed between the dedicated and often heroic work of the country's health personnel, the proportional and temporary emergency measures to protect the population, implemented after a difficult decision taken in the Prime Minister's Office following expert advice, and by an expert team lead by the Minister of Health with the steady support of the Under-Minister for Civil Protection and with a scientific spokesman and an infectious disease expert, who day by day presents the reality on the ground with epidemiological accuracy, in a calm and balanced way. While Greece has been designated as digitally slow, in response to COVID-19 it has been analogue fast. On World Health Day 2020, let’s give three cheers for all warriors in the battle and shed a tear for all who do not take care of wellbeing at this critical time.
Caution is mandatory since any registered success rests on a fragile balance, which can easily be reversed in the first place from the danger of relaxing emergency measures, symptoms of which are visible in spite of unknown dangers that lie ahead; we are not yet through the viral onslaught or over a potential upsurge in its dynamics.
A different and greater loss for all countries would be to miss any opportunity or new ideas that emerge useful for their future, for example, in relation to the mandatory interdisciplinary preparation needed to face future threats and in the strengthening of public health. For Greece, I note an upcoming celebration in 2021 of the Revolutionary War of Independence, 1821, recalling that Greece then faced indescribably miserable health conditions: plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, typhus, dysentery, diphtheria, malaria, syphilis and note that conditions of the people changed little over a century. In the 1920s in the aftermath of the Spanish flu and on the threshold of the Asia Minor Disaster (influx of one and a half million refugees) followed by a so designated pandemic of dengue fever (3000 deaths in a few months and a mortality of 6%) in a background of endemic malaria (6000 annual deaths), Greece undertook an ambitious policy for social development. Dengue came from the Middle East, threw Europe into panic and as a result of smart politics pushed Greece forward. It was a time in the arena of public health then, sometimes repeated later that voices of those who know better remained hidden in the noise of politics as usual.
Even now, the devil Coronavirus is showing the way forward, if the world can only listen, which can ensure that Greek society is prepared in time for any future health threat while it points to the mounting of a different and creative health-based way to celebrate the Revolutionary War of Independence, next year. One theme should be to acknowledge the outstanding dedication and heroic efforts of public health workers now and then, illustrate the bridge of the miserable disease-ridden conditions that prevailed at the time of the Revolutionary War and the today’s whip of the Coronavirus that has already caused the death until now of 81 mainly senior citizens in a caseload of 1775 cases and promote the philosophy and politics that gave rise to the so-called golden years of public health. Today’s global figures of Coronavirus Cases: 1,363,123, deaths: 76,383. While the world is not yet ready to celebrate victory over COVID-19 it is not too early to choose a theme of public health in the Greek Biennial Celebration of the Revolutionary War of Independence.
On this a special day of wellbeing for humanity, I wish a rapid recovery for all Coronovirus2 stricken countries, say Bless all Nurses and Health for all and the WHO as well as a happy in lockdown World Health Day, Greece. I do so with the hope of No more urgent need, Thales, first in philosophy and first do no harm, Hippocrates, father of medicine, who in his oath, names Apollo, Asclepius, Panacea and Hygiene, goddess of public health.
1 Dedicated this year to the Nursing profession whose members today are in a courageous fight to stem the Coronavirus rampage at great risk to themselves.
2 See Αntony Αrgyris. The Coronavirus Pandemic and its extraordinary emergency needs: Joint statement by Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Portugal Sweden (April 2, 2020), and a caution, while noting that new laws with the aid of technology can expand state surveillance, allow government to hold people indefinitely and violate freedom of assembly and expression that can shape citizens lives, politics and economics for decades to come.