PRESENTATION OF THE ONASSIS NATIONAL TRANSPLANT CENTER:
A HEALTH PROJECT ON A NATIONAL SCALE FROM THE ONASSIS FOUNDATION
Greece acquires its own national transplant center. The vision of an Onassis National Transplant Center is now a reality,
The Onassis Foundation’s contributions in the field of Health continue. A long-cherished vision becomes a reality: Greece acquires a national transplant center: the Onassis National Transplant Center. A hospital dedicated to solid organ transplants, with a total budget of 100 million Euros, equipped with cutting-edge technology and including the first autonomous transplant unit exclusively for children in Greece, the Onassis Pediatric Unit, which will offer high-level Pediatric Cardiology & Pediatric Heart Surgery services. A center which also has special provisions in place for the treatment of uninsured patients. A hospital for all.
The presentation of the Onassis National Transplant Center was held on Wednesday 31 October at the Onassis Cultural Center in the presence of Mr Takis Kourakis, First Deputy Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament representing the Speaker of the House; the Hellenic Minister of Health, Mr Andreas Xanthos, and the Deputy Minister of Health, Mr Pavlos Polakis, representing the Government; the MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Vasilis Oikonomou,, representing the President of New Democracy; the MP Konstantinos Bargiotas representing the President of the KINAL; the head of Potami, Mr Stavros Theodorakis; and numerous representatives from the domains of politics and diplomacy, the media, and important figures from the academic and medical communities. The event was chaired by the well-known journalist, Popi Tsapanidou.
The vision goes back a long way. But guided by the actual needs of Greek society, the Onassis Foundation has been working towards its implementation steadily and with determination. Working with both the Greek state and the National Transplant Organization (NTO), these efforts ultimately bore fruit, and the vote to adopt the draft law by the plenary of the Hellenic Parliament on 27 September 2018 put in place the framework that will allow a second hospital, this one specializing in transplants, to take its place alongside the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center (OCSC) and to be in operation within three years of the start of the implementation stage.
The President of the Onassis Foundation and host of the event, Mr Anthony Papadimitriou, referred to this vision in his opening speech. Mr Papadimitriou stressed, , among other things: «Today is a day of joy, vindication and pride for the Onassis Foundation. We have worked systematically and with dedication within a framework of fruitful public-private sector cooperation to achieve today’s result. By creating the Onassis National Transplant Center, the Onassis Foundation is set to usher in another turning point in Greek health and make the dream of access to high-quality, specialized transplant services a reality for dozens of patients. As the guardian of Aristotle Onassis’ vision, the Onassis Foundation has been providing uninterrupted support to Health, Education and Culture for over four decades. Our goal is to assist society and the Greek state, honouring the past and looking ahead to the future.
For his part, the President of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, Mr Dimitris Niakas, noted the positive impact the creation of the new hospital will have on his own hospital: “The creation of a new hospital, the Onassis National Transplant Center, will help further upgrade and evolve the services provided by the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, allowing it to remain at the cutting edge of developments and innovation in the field of cardiology and heart surgery.»
The project was embraced from the start by the President of the National Transplant Organization, Mr Andreas Karabinis, who stressed the project’s importance for the Greek transplant sector: “The National Transplant Organization welcomes the Onassis Foundation’s initiative to create and donate a state-of the-art national transplant center to Greek society in order to fill the gap in the health services and infrastructure available in the sphere of organ transplants. In parallel, we have also designed a series of actions which we will be jointly implementing with the Onassis Foundation to raise awareness and knowledge of the crucial issue of organ donations, both within the medical community and in Greek society at large.» It should be noted that the Onassis National Transplant Center will also house the new headquarters of the NTO, which will in itself help the Greek transplant sector operate as efficiently and flexibly as possible.
The second part of the event did not feature speeches, but rather a vigorous debate in which Popi Tsapanidou posed questions to a fascinating panel composed of Antonis Papadimitriou, President of the Onassis Foundation, Panos Minogiannis, General Manager of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, Andreas Karabinis, President of the National Transplant Organisation, and Iraklis Tsangaris, Associate Professor of Intensive Care Medicine who is currently training to perform lung transplants through the Onassis Foundation scholarship programme.
The event also featured interventions in the form of live video link-ups and recordings, including statements from the world’s leading Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Mr Walter Klepetko, which will be participating in the lung transplant training program for Greek doctors; the Director of Italy’s National Transplant Center, Mrs Nanni Costa; and Ms Anna Mariola, head of Air Distribution for the Greek National First Aid Centre.
The presentation’s endnote, which was provided by Zoi Kostaridi, the first Greek transplant patient to go on to become a mother, who was physically present at the event, added a singularly human note to proceedings.
GREECE IS IN NEED OF AN IMMEDIATE REBOOT IN THE TRANSPLANTS SPHERE
The creation of the Onassis National Transplant Center will fill a large gap in Greek health provision. The lack of suitable infrastructure, the limited number of qualified medical personnel, and the lack of public confidence in the health system, which impacts negatively on organ donations, all serve to keep transplantation activity in Greece at very low levels.
According to NTO data, Greece is in last place in Europe in the field of transplantations, and in the bottom ten countries in the Western world. For instance, in 2016, only 151 transplants took place in Greece, compared with 1,032 and 846 respectively in Belgium and Portugal, European countries with populations of roughly the same size. Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 260 Greeks travelled abroad to hospitals around Europe for solid organ transplants. In the same period, the NTO data shows that 696 transplant recipients travelled abroad for post-operative examinations, which imposes a huge psychological cost on the patients and their families, but also an economic burden on the State.
ONASSIS NATIONAL TRANSPLANT CENTER (ONTRC): A GIFT OF LIFE
The ONTRC is expected to serve as a catalyst which will energize the transplant sector in Greece by working with existing transplant units. Its active presence will lead to the creation of a nationwide network coordinated by the NTO, and hence to an increase both in the number of transplants performed and in their effectiveness. This will lay the foundations for a more effective management of transplant needs in the future. At the same time, the founding of the ONTRC also ensures the conditions required to provide the sort of integrated transplant care which takes into account the person in the patient.
The Onassis Pediatric Unit: relief for child patients and their families
Within the ONTRC, the Onassis Pediatric Unit, the first autonomous transplant unit in Greece exclusively for children, will provide children with specialized, high-level transplant and heart surgery services as well as bringing much-needed relief to their parents.
Drastic reduction in patients travelling abroad for treatment
The new facilities and services provided by the ONTRC, combined with the boosting of the Greek organ donation culture, the development of medical know-how in transplantation surgery and the increased numbers of certified medical staff, should reduce the huge numbers of patients travelling abroad for treatment and eliminate the phenomenon entirely in the long term. The creation of the ONTRC will serve as a catalyst for the further development of the transplantation sector in Greece. This will primarily benefit patients, as solid organ transplants will now take place in Greece which would have been impossible without the ONTRC.
A hospital for everyone
The Onassis National Transplant Center (ONTRC) will operate as a legal entity governed by Private Law, a general government body with administrative and financial autonomy under the supervision of the Hellenic Minister of Health. It will provide public access to services in accordance with the model employed by Europe’s finest hospitals. On the completion of its construction phase, the ONTRC will be donated to Greek society by the Onassis Foundation. The patient receiving the transplant will not be charged at any stage during the transplant process, even if they are uninsured.
Reduction in Health costs
By adopting the standards applied in centers of organ transplant excellence in Europe and the US, the ONTRC is expected to bring about a major reduction both in the social cost of the hardships suffered by Greek transplant patients and their families and in the financial cost of organ transplants to the health system. Reducing the need to travel abroad for transplant surgery will mean significant savings for the Greek National Health Service.
Increase in transplant activity from the first five years
According to the NTO, the creation of the Onassis National Transplant Center with its state-of-the-art facilities, specialist staff and cutting-edge technology will contribute to the creation of a nationwide transplant network while simultaneously boosting the organ donation movement, thereby allowing Greece to achieve a level of transplants more than half that of the average in other European countries with a comparable population size from its first five years in operation.
National Center of Excellence and Medical Innovation
The ONTRC will join forces with the ONTRC with a view to developing into an international center of medical innovation in transplantation, cardiology and heart surgery for adults and children. Making full use of the OCSC’s quarter century in operation and its collaboration with the NTO, the ONTRC will set about forging international collaborations in the sphere of transplants which will facilitate the sharing of medical expertise and the international exchange of scientific approaches and techniques. It will also collaborate with universities and research centers in Greece and abroad as well as with the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens with a view to driving transplant research.
Networking and Continuing Professional Development for medical and nursing staff is a prerequisite for the ongoing upgrade of the services they provide.
The ONTRC will pave the way for leading doctors to work in Greece, collaborating with Greek doctors, promoting the scientific discourse on new developments in transplantation surgery, and facilitating the passing on of know-how which is currently lacking in the transplant sector in Greece. At the same time, via an Onassis Foundation scholarship programme, Greek doctors are already receiving further training in specialized clinics around Europe, where they will acquire the specializations and certifications they require to return to Greece ready to undertake transplant operations.
A new impetus in organ donation
Developing and strengthening a culture of organ donation is a prerequisite for a new and more effective national transplantation strategy. The Onassis Foundation, in cooperation with the National Transplant Organization and the Hellenic Ministry of Health, will be investing resources in activities that will both effectively promote the national transplant and organ donation strategy in Greece and raise the level of education in relation to transplants.
Notes to the Editor
The Onassis Foundation was created in 1975 , in line with instructions left by Aristotle Onassis in his will. Its goal: to support Greek society in the crucial areas of health, education and culture. The Foundation’s efforts and activities have been underpinned from the start by a commitment to ensuring that as many of our fellow human beings as possible enjoy access to these social goods—goods that are critical to our well-being and cohesion as a society. Its ultimate goal is to release the potential of Greek society for a better and more optimistic future for Greece.
In the area of Health in particular, the offerings of the Onassis Foundation could have peaked with the creation of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center and its donation to Greek society, but this was neither the beginning nor the end of its contributions. From the full refit of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center at the Andreas Syngros hospital to the support it provides to institutions and bodies such as the Pharmacology Laboratory of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the Hellenic Society for the Protection and Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (SOS CHILDREN) and the ELPIDA Association of Friends of Children with Cancer; from the awarding of dozens of scholarships to medical and nursing personnel to its numerous activities in Special Education and educational programs designed to raise awareness of autism, the Onassis Foundation’s activities in Health have always had the same point of reference: people. As might have been expected, the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center would go on to dramatically change the face of cardiology and heart surgery in Greece, stopping the flow of patients travelling abroad for treatment by making it possible for them to be treated without leaving their home country. The Onassis National Transplant Center, the Onassis Foundation’s new large-scale donation to Greek society, marks the next step in its ongoing contributions in the field of Health. A quarter of a century on from the creation of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, this new nationally-significant initiative will change the face of medicine in Greece.
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