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Summary

The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity is in charge of public health issues in Greece, such as those related to communicable diseases, weather-related disasters, and others.  Two major centers play a central role in coordinating, planning, and fighting the spread of communicable diseases: (a) the National Health Operations Center, and (b) the Center for the Control and Prevention of Communicable Diseases.  In response to the Ebola crisis, Greece established a comprehensive plan to fight the virus that involved setting-up a special unit for potential victims and staffing entry points with medical experts to detect suspected cases, among other measures.  As a Member of the European Union and the World Health Organization, Greece complies with European Union and World Health Organization legislation on issues related to public health crises and is in constant collaboration with both entities.

I.  Introduction

In Greece, public health issues fall within the domain of the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity.  The mission of the Ministry is to promote the health care of citizens; provide a high level of medical, pharmaceutical, and hospital services; and work towards the prevention of diseases, in compliance with European Union (EU) legislation and regulations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).[1]  Greece is required to comply with EU Decision No. 1082/2013 on Serious Cross-Border Threats to Health[2] and is also in close contact with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, established by the EU.[3]  In addition, Greece participates in the Early Warning and Response System established in 1998 in order to provide notification of alerts concerning serious public health threats with cross-border implications.[4]  The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity also participates in the Health Security Committee, established at the EU level.[5]

As a WHO member, Greece ratified the revised 2005 International Health Regulations, which entered into force in June 2007 and require WHO Members to provide notification of all events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern.[6]  In February 2014, WHO designated the University of Thessaly in Central Greece as a WHO collaboration center in order to have support in training activities related to ship inspections and the management of public health events at points of entry.[7]

In 1992, Greece established the Center for the Control and Prevention of Communicable Diseases,[8] which plays a critical role in preventing, controlling, and fighting epidemics, chronic diseases, intentional or accidental disasters from chemical or biological agents, and public health issues associated with a large influx of illegal migrants.[9] 

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II.  National Agencies Responsible for Public Emergencies

At the domestic level, Greece has established two major agencies in order to effectively address public health crises, including natural disasters, communicable diseases, weather-related events, illegal migration, and others.

A.  National Health Operations Center

The National Health Operations Center (NHOC) (in Greek, EKEPY) was established in 2004, during Greece’s preparations for the Olympic Games.  Its headquarters are located in Athens, while four divisions operate in other areas of Greece.  The tasks of the NHOC are to assist the public in case of communicable diseases, natural disasters, and weather-related events such as floods or fires, as well as healthcare management associated with illegal migration.[10]  It operates at the national level under the aegis of the Minister of Health and Social Solidarity and at the EU level by collaborating with similar institutions in the EU.

The NHOC exercises supervision over the Center for the Control of Communicable Diseases, the Hellenic National Center for Emergency Care, and the health districts, which include Greek hospitals.[11]

B.  Center for the Control and Prevention of Communicable Diseases

The Center for the Control and Prevention of Communicable Diseases[12] (abbreviated in Greek as KEEL and, as of 2005, as KEELPNO[13]) was established in 1992 and is located in Athens.[14]  The mission and tasks assigned to KEELPNO are determined by Implementing Decree No. 358/1992[15] and include the control and prevention of contagious and noncontagious diseases and, if possible, their cure.  KEELPNO also makes suggestions and recommendations on national policy concerning diseases to the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity.  In addition, KEELPNO informs the public and disseminates information and circulars to groups that are at high risk of being infected by a disease.[16]  KEELPNO has been designated as the national authority to closely communicate with the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in particular in the area of developing surveillance responses to health threats, providing scientific opinions and scientific and technical assistance, collecting data and identifying emerging health threats, and conducting public information campaigns.[17]

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III.  National Response to the Ebola Crisis

In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, KEELPNO announced that there is a “very low” risk of the Ebola virus reaching Greece.  However, KEELPNO officials have been on the alert and are monitoring the outbreak.[18] 

In order to respond to the Ebola crisis in a coordinated manner, Greece established a multifaceted national plan agreed upon jointly by the Ministers of Health and Social Solidarity, of Public Order, and of Shippingdesigned to deal with Ebola patients; ensure that travelers who may have Ebola and enter Greece either by air, sea, or land are monitored; keep the public informed; and assuage fears among the citizens.  To this effect, an intensive care isolation unit specifically equipped to deal with Ebola patients has been established in a hospital in Athens.  In addition, a specially trained team of health workers constantly update their training and knowledge of the disease in compliance with guidelines issued by EU and Greek officials.[19]

On October 10, 2014, officials from the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity, in collaboration with experts from KEELPNO and the NHOC, announced a number of precautionary measures to combat a possible Ebola epidemic in Greece.  Priority among the measures was to secure Greece’s entry points with an additional thirty medical experts from KEELPNO to provide early diagnoses of any suspicious cases.  Airlines were also instructed to distribute questionnaires to visitors traveling from West African countries (via direct flights or in transit) in order to identify persons who may have come into contact with Ebola patients.  In addition, Greek and English-language posters have already been placed in Greek airports providing information about the Ebola virus.[20]

Prepared by Theresa Papademetriou
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
February 2015


[1] Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Health, http://www.moh.gov.gr/articles/ministry/organogramma/45-armodiothtes-toy-ypoyrgeioy-ygeias-kai-koinwnikhs-allhleggyhs (in Greek; last visited Nov. 26, 2014).

[2] Decision No. 1082/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2013 on Serious Cross-Border Threats to Health and Repealing Decision No. 2119/1998/ EC, 2013 O.J. (L 293) 1, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/ LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:293:0001:0015:EN:PDF.

[3] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, http://ecdc.europa.eu/ (last visited Nov. 12, 2014).

[4] Decision No. 1082/2013, supra note 2, art. 8.

[5] Id. art. 17, para. 3.

[6] Law No. 3991/2011 Kyrose tou Anatheorimenou Diethnous Ygeionomikou Kanonismou, tou Pagkosmiou Organismou Ygeias [Ratification of the Revised International Health Regulations Adopted by WHO], Ephemeris tes kyverneseos tes Hellenikes Demokratias [E.K.E.D.] 2011, A:162. http://www.et.gr/index.php/2013-01-28-14-06-23/search-laws (ratifying the WHO International Health Regulations (2d ed. 2005), http://www.who.int/ihr/publications/9789241596664/en/).

[7] New WHO Collaborative Centre for IHR – Points of Entry in Greece (University of Thessaly), WHO PAGNet (July 22, 2014), https://extranet.who.int/pagnet/?q=content/new-who-collaborative-centre-ihr-points-entry-greece-university-thessaly.

[9] Law No. 3370/2005, art. 5, Organosi kai Leitourgia of Health Services kai Alles Diatakseis [Organization and Operation of Health Services and Other Provisions], E.K.E.D. 2005 A:178, http://www.et.gr/idocs-nph/search/pdfViewerForm.html?args=5C7QrtC22wHrZvzjsKBkq3dtvSoClrL8gb8ZK5B_4Hl5MXD0LzQTLWPU9yLzB8V68knBzLCmTXKaO6fpVZ6Lx
3UnKl3nP8NxdnJ5r9cmWyJWelDvWS_18kAEhATUkJb0x1LIdQ163nV9K--td6SIuUjEQ4m-Pl5_5Ndr9ctGV0KgaYdWP7N74CbAY8Bm2sX_
.

[10] Dr. Panos Efstathiou, Hellenic National Health Operations Center, NHOC Emergency Plans and Actions, http://www.preventionweb.net/files/11564_PANOSEFSTATHIOU.pdf (last visited Nov. 26, 2014).

[11] Id.

[12] Emergency Operations Centre of HCDCP, Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.keelpno.gr/en-us/managementofpublichealthissuesoperationcenter.aspx (last visited Nov. 26, 2014).

[13] Law No. 3370/2005, art. 20.

[15] Presidential Decree No. 358/1992, Organosi Leitourgia kai Armodiotites tou Kentrou Loimodon Limokseon [Organization, Operation and Responsibilities of the Center of Communicable Diseases], E.K.E.D. 1992, A:179, http://www.et.gr/idocs-nph/search/pdfViewerForm.html?args=5C7QrtC22wF7YkbUtryc43dtvSoClrL8tvm GnUriqnd5MXD0LzQTLWPU9yLzB8V68knBzLCmTXKaO6fpVZ6Lx3UnKl3nP8NxdnJ5r9cmWyJWelDvWS
_18kAEhATUkJb0x1LIdQ163nV9K--td6SIuQILCNmEB2x4MHVk-Xgell4tEqkB5I8OkTDDIYS6ToMB
.

[16] Id. art. 3.

[17] Competent Bodies, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, http://www.ecdc.europa.eu/ en/aboutus/Competent%20bodies/Pages/Competent_bodies.aspx (last visited Nov. 26, 2014).

[18] Greek Disease Control Center Sees ‘Very Low’ Risk of Ebola Spread but Cautions Travelers, eKathimerini (Aug. 1, 2014), http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_01/08/2014_541879.

[19] Greece Adopts Preventive Measures Against Ebola Virus, Chania Post (Oct. 11, 2014), http://www.chaniapost. eu/?p=7899; Ioanna Zikakou, Greek Government Takes Steps to Tackle Ebola Virus, Greek Reporter (Oct. 11, 2014), http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/10/11/greek-government-takes-steps-to-tackle-ebola-virus/.

[20] Chania Post, supra note 19; Zikakou, supra note 19.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015