Monday was a historic day for the nation of Greece with the groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction for the long-awaited Onassis National Transplant Center in Athens.
Along with this momentous event, there was the presentation of an action plan to rebuild the country’s transplant and organ donation sector through Greece’s Ministry of Health and other state agencies.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressed the crowd of dignitaries including Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the President of the Hellenic Republic; Theodoros II, the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa; and Ieronymos, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece.
A host of other representatives from the nation’s civil, political and ecclesiastical leadership and Greece’s scientific and academic communities also took part in the event.
Hans Klug, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Europe, addressed the public during the ceremony as well.
The construction phase for the transplant center should take three and a half years. The new hospital will be dedicated to solid organ transplants, and will also provide high-quality health services in the fields of Pediatric Cardiology and Pediatric Cardiac Surgery.
The ambitious project will be funded by an extraordinarily generous donation from the Onassis Foundation.
The Greek Prime Minister praised the Onassis Foundation’s many contributions for the benefit of the Greek public, adding “Our country today is in more need than ever for an action framework in the field of transplants. Buildings alone do not suffice. Donors are needed, a system is needed, a procedure is also needed, and for this I regard as particularly important the implementation of a National Transplant Plan.”
Addressing the president of the foundation, Mitsotakis continued “I want to also highlight the initiative by which you will undertake the funding of seven Transplant Coordinators, one per hospital, within one year. That is, until the State has in place a cohesive plan that we will be able to implement.
“The Donor Registry will have to be enriched. I understand that the number of donors today is extremely low, at around 4,000. Perhaps we must change that with an initiative that all of us, the Members of Parliament, will commit to register in the Donor Registry following the President’s example. But also with awareness campaigns to inform all citizens. And of course, doctors and nurses – especially those in Intensive Care Units – will assume a crucial role in this,” the PM added.
Anthony Papadimitriou, the President of the Onassis Foundation, remarked in his address that “Today marks the start of a new hospital, The Onassis National Transplant Center. Transplantation is a vision that includes us all. It will be there for us in the future, just so long as we assume our responsibilities today.”
At the same time, the foundation president announced new actions designed to improve the health system, most significantly the drawing up of a National Strategic Plan for Transplants. “Having secured the support of the State, we support and have commissioned a National Transplant Plan from a team at the London School of Economics led by the distinguished professors Elias Mossialos and Vassilios Papalois.”
“The team has already embarked on its research in preparation for mapping the situation in Greece. Their conclusions are due to be published and made available to the Greek state in June of 2020,” Papadimitriou noted.
According to the Onassis Foundation, organ transplantation is emerging globally as the most cutting-edge therapeutic practice of the 21st century. It is the only treatment available for final-stage heart, liver and lung failure and it is also the most effective one for renal failure.
Statistically, Greece is in last place in Europe and among the bottom ten countries in the entire Western world in the field of organ transplantation.
In 2018, there were only 45 organs donated in Greece and just 172 organs were transplanted. In European countries with a similar population, such as Belgium and Portugal, the numbers were strikingly different.
The corresponding figures for Belgium last year were 344 organ donations and 1,021 transplants and in Portugal, there were 344 donations and 783 transplants.
In addition, minor patients from Greece who need any kind of transplants, and adults who are in need of lung transplants, currently must travel abroad for their operations, an onerous and difficult task when their health is already compromised.