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Sunday 10 March 2013

MSF: Another dangerous intervention in the name of humanity and public health

Translation of the statement released by Doctors Without Borders in response to the Thetis sweep operation of intravenous drug users. 

The involvement of public healthcare actors in Greek Police’s “sweep” operations is contrary to medical ethics.

We at Doctors Without Borders express our deep opposition to the sweep operations conducted by the Hellenic Police, such as the one carried out on the night of 5 to 6 March to transfer drug addicts to police facilities in Amygdaleza.  According to the authorities, this operation, which involved the participation of public health authorities (Ministry of Health, National Health Operations Centre and Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) was aiming at controlling drug trafficking in the centre of Athens, together with “medical-humanitarian action” i.e. to provide medical services and “registration” for the persons taken in custody (men and women, of Greek and non-Greek origin).

“Public health cannot be promoted through police-led medical screenings and services” says Willem DeJonge, General Director of the Greek section of MSF, adding: “Public health can be effectively safeguarded and promoted as long as the populations most in need have adequate access to healthcare services and to effective public healthcare programs. It is promoted only when the medical needs of all social groups are met –people lacking health insurance, drug users, homeless people, regardless of their origin”.

The amendment of Greek Presidential Decree 114/2010 - included in the law governing “Electronic communications, Transports and Public Works Regulations and other decrees” introduced on April 9 2012 - foresees “mandatory health screenings of persons who suffer from communicable diseases or belong to groups vulnerable to communicable diseases, and their detention in health structures on the grounds that these persons are a danger to public health”. According to this same piece of legislation “the at-risk factor is defined as persons who suffer from communicable diseases or belong to population groups vulnerable to communicable diseases, mainly due to their country of origin or the use of intravenous illegal substances, or the fact that they are a sex workers…, or that their living conditions that do not abide to basic rules of hygiene”.

At MSF, we argue that public health is an issue of state responsibility. Individuals are at risk, rather than the risk, in the absence of comprehensive State public health policies and interventions which are adequately implemented. MSF calls upon the relevant authorities to change the law and sanitary regulations  and safeguard unhindered access to health care for all vulnerable population groups. This can only be achieved through well-planned and coherent medical services, outside the sphere of action of the police.

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