Doctor with an appetite to deal with malnutrition problem in Greece
Dr Michael Chourdakis: "To have a change in our hospital situation we need to have a change in our economic situatio,n and to change that we need to change our politicians."
Dr Michael Chourdakis has devised a programme to help Greek hospitals tackle malnutrition in patientsThough Ireland has been to hell and back in recent years, the situation in Greece is far worse.
The country is in existential crisis, a meltdown brought on by many decades of corruption, mismanagement and tax avoidance. There is real hunger in Greece, a situation inconceivable even a decade ago when the country prepared to host the 2004 Olympic Games.
As a nutritionist, Dr Michael Chourdakis is acutely aware of the problems in his country caused by the economic crash. He will speak at a conference this day week organised by the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism.
Most people associate malnutrition with the developing world and particularly sub-Saharan Africa. The word has connotations of famine and distended stomachs, but it has a much broader meaning than that and denotes all kinds of poor nutrition. It also includes obesity.
Secretary general of the Hellenic Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Dr Chourdakis devised a programme to treat malnutrition in the hospital setting, where patients can be particularly vulnerable to poor nutrition. It can prolong their stays in hospitals and many leave, after treatment, with a lower quality of life. He says many doctors and nurses are too busy treating patients to care about nutrition.
The programme aims to provide Greek caregivers such as doctors, dietitians, nurses and pharmacists with educational material in a user-friendly and cost-free way.
He persuaded politicians to incorporate changes in the Greek legislation on clinical nutrition issues to make them mandatory in every public hospital.
Has it made a difference? “It was announced on March 1st last year,” he said with a sigh, “but due to the very bad economic situation in Greece, nobody is looking at how to incorporate this legislation into everyday clinical practice. But we are very optimistic that this is going to happen. This is only the first step.”
Dr Chourdakis works in a country from which three or four doctors leave every day. Those who have remained have faced salary cuts of more than 30 per cent.
The Greek public hospital system is also in grave crisis. Hospital budgets have been slashed, fewer medications are available and basic hygiene is so bad that hospitalacquired infections are on the rise. Only the rich have guaranteed access to medicines. “You get treatment for free, but the quality of treatment is debatable,” he said.
In recent weeks the Greek government introduced a free snack for children in schools because so many pupils are going to school hungry.