Extra medics drafted in as risk of epidemics rises in Greece

Published: 30 March 2016 23:08 CET

By Caroline Haga, IFRC                            

The Red Cross is drafting in extra medics to Greece as hepatitis, chicken pox and lice infestations are reported on the country’s northern border.

The Hellenic Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is setting up clinics in several new camps to ensure people have access to basic health care.

IFRC emergency health delegate Tiina Saarikoski said: “Cases of Hepatitis A, chicken pox, coughing and breathing problems, and head lice infestations have been reported among children and adults.

“Given the increasing health concerns, particularly among the thousands of children spending their days in wet clothes without proper access to hygiene and warmth, we are increasing our efforts and bringing in extra medics from across Europe and beyond.”

Women and children at risk

Almost 60 per cent of the people who have been stranded in poor conditions in Greece for more than a month are women and children. The situation is particularly dire for the 11,000 people waiting in Idomeni at the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the 5,600 people at Piraeus port in Athens.  It is estimated that up to 40,000 people are stranded in Greece and will spend weeks or months in limbo.

In an effort to improve conditions, the Greek Government is establishing new camps and expanding existing ones, with a focus on the greater Athens region and northern Greece. Families stranded in Idomeni and Piraeus are being urged by authorities to voluntarily move to these more permanent facilities while applications for asylum are being processed. Despite these efforts, the situation remains serious.

Head of the IFRC in Greece, Karen Bjornestad, said: “There is not enough shelter, sanitation, clothes and shoes, or even food for the thousands expected to stay for weeks and months in mainland Greece.”

Ensuring health care and hygiene

In northern Greece, IFRC medical teams are supporting the Hellenic Red Cross in Idomeni as well as in three newly established camps that already house 10,000 people at Nea Kavala, Cherso and Diavata. Red Cross teams are also providing emergency supplies and focusing on hygiene and waste management in the camps.

In Piraeus, the Hellenic Red Cross is responsible for first aid, distributing food and hygiene items, offering children’s activities and providing basic health care. International medical teams are being brought in to support the efforts at the port and in at least one new camp in Ritsona. Helping migrants connect with their families and find lost family members continues to be a critical service provided by the Red Cross.

The IFRC is running an emergency appeal for 13.1 million Swiss francs to support more than 200,000 people across the country and is mobilizing extra staff and emergency stocks to support the Hellenic Red Cross in northern Greece and in the greater Athens region.