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Reaching those who are far away

Four hours to twenty hours by sea. This is the length of the journey required in Greece, in certain cases, to obtain a simple examination at a diagnostic center.

This is the reality faced by thousands of people—seniors, people with mobility problems or limited financial capacity, and others—living on remote islands and hard-to-access regions in Greece. Minimal health infrastructure and a lack of specialized medical staff near home compel them to make long journeys to seek care. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), in collaboration with the nonprofit Regeneration & Progress, looked to find a solution by reframing the problem: Rather than residents of remote areas traveling long distances to access hospitals and diagnostic centers, what if the hospital could travel to them?

Stavros Niarchos Foundation | Empowering Humanity

Created in 2014, the Mobile Medical Units (MMU) initiative operates two Units equipped with a 3-D digital mammography unit, dentistry equipment, a bone density scanner, a portable X-ray machine, and other state of-the-art medical equipment. The MMUs are staffed by a volunteer team of medical specialists in various fields, including general surgery, orthopedics, ophthalmology, cardiology, dentistry, and neurology, who provide free diagnostic examinations and services to residents of remote islands and regions.

The work of the Mobile Medical Units in numbers

Over the course of the past 10 years, the Mobile Medical Units have carried out 160 missions, reaching the residents of remote islands and localities across Greece again and again. To date, they have offered more than 88,000 free medical examinations, more than 110,000 medical appointments and countless warm welcomes, helping more than 52,000 people access humanity’s most precious resource: our health.

Free medical examinations
Medical appointement

The people who are the beating heart of the MMUs

The Mobile Medical Units initiative could not have become a reality without the invaluable contribution of the medical staff who devote one weekend a month to their neighbors in need to participate in MMU missions. Participating physicians, nurses, and technical staff close their offices, postpone their personal obligations, and leave their homes and families to provide their services and to ensure that more people have free access to comprehensive health services.

Relationships are built with residents. On most islands, they know us by name, and we likewise know them by name. And they feel comfortable enough to give us a call, even if we haven’t been there for eight months.”

Panagiotis Koulouvaris, President, Regeneration & Progress

For us, [going on the missions] has been a way of life for years now. It is a unique experience, and it recharges our batteries for returning to continue with our daily routine. It is an escape and a contribution, which is the meaning of our work—something that we have somewhat forgotten.

Anastasios Mpaxevanakis, Ophthalmic Surgeon, Member of the MMU Team

Reflecting on the initiative’s substantial impact

During these ten years, cases of cardiac problems and different forms of neoplasia have been diagnosed, referred to Athens for further examinations and hospitalization and treated effectively thanks to their timely diagnosis. On several occasions, surgical operations have been performed during the visits of the MMUs and emergencies, including serious injuries, cardiac episodes, and seizures, have been treated.

Furthermore, an electronic medical record is created for each patient, recording their health history and any examination findings, to keep them informed about their health and guide follow-up care as needed.

Something that impressed me a lot was the high degree of organization with which these people were deployed within 48 hours and completed a colossal task. Their attitude was all about helping out, standing by our side and getting results, and this attitude exuded an amazing ethos.”

Anna Haztigrigoriou, Resident of Prespes

They are very good doctors. We are all very satisfied. They are kind, nice people who come to our island and serve us.”

Evangelia Markouli, Resident of Donousa

Through the eyes of volunteers

The MMU program is invaluable for residents of the areas that the MMU visit across Greece. But looking closer, there is also another group which gains a lot from this experience: the medical students who volunteer for MMU missions. To date, more than 300 medical students have participated in the missions. Through the program, they have had the opportunity to understand the importance of medical treatment and routine examinations for the residents of remote areas who don’t have easy access to hospitals, to gain experience treating emergency cases, and to learn alongside experienced doctors and nurses.

In Serifos, I experienced something that changed me; that brought me into contact with the most beautiful side of medicine and connected me with fellow human beings who share the same purpose in this life, doctors and nurses who all gave their love and energy and, on the other hand, with the people of the Cyclades, for whom I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart, ever since I was a kid. You will be hard-pressed to find warmer people than these. Their words still echo in my mind: ‘Doctor, thank you so much for not forgetting us and bless you for coming.’”

Nikolaos Kontomitros

A large number of people may not be able to understand what the doctor says and often even the seriousness of the health problem they are dealing with. Scientific terms may feel to them like a ‘foreign language.’ And this is when you realize that even as a doctor, the closer you get to the patient, the more you try to speak their language, the more easily they will be able to trust you with every detail and the better they will communicate their problem.”

Natali Tsakiroglou

10 years of missions, one goal

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the launch of the MMUs, MMU members hosted a three-day event on the island of Amorgos from January 26 to 29, 2024, offering the usual free diagnostic examinations and screenings. More than 210 people joined concurrent activities like lectures on public health issues, workshops for parents on sex ed, and informational sessions for high school students, as well as traditional dances, a mini basketball tournament, yoga and first aid lessons, hiking, and much more.

A crowd gathered outside of the monastery of Hozoviotissa in Amorgos.
Mission #160
Island of Amorgos
I am extremely proud of the MMUs, a project that kicked off 10 years ago with a strong vision and has been sustained primarily through the hard work of its volunteers. As you know, the Foundation has recently been focusing its attention on our Global Health Initiative (GHI) but, for us, the MMUs will always be one of the most important projects of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). We could even say that the MMUs were a preamble to the GHI.
Andreas Dracopoulos
SNF Co-President
No distance can stand in the way

From Kastelorizo to Promachoi and from Agathonisi to Mega Dereio, the members of the Mobile Medical Units have traveled to Greece’s most remote areas, stopping at hundreds of destinations to fulfill their commitment to their fellow human beings to always reach those who are far away.

And the journey continues.