Being a doctor is quite a commitment, says MEP working on the ‘front line’

"It's important for doctors to get involved in politics. When a health crisis happens, like now, the right decisions have to be made, and for that, you need a good knowledge of the field," said French MEP ChrysoulaZacharopoulou (Renew). [Aline Robert]

Some MEPs are getting personally involved in the fight against the coronavirus. EURACTIV France spoke to one of them, French centrist MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, who is currently on the ‘front lines’ at a military hospital near Paris.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou is an MEP for the Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament. A gynaecological surgeon by profession, Zacharopoulou was born in Greece but studied and worked in Italy and France. As the COVID-19 health crisis hits France, she is now working at the Begin Hospital in Saint-Mandé, a military hospital near Paris.

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How did you end up treating COVID-19 patients?

Since I was elected, I have continued to have consultations in my hospital one day a week. But as surgeries have been suspended since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, I told the hospital director that I was at his disposal.

Being a doctor, now that’s a commitment! I’m not an infectious disease specialist or a resuscitator, of course, but I am very humble in my commitment. There are many things one can do to help: welcoming and examining patients, testing them, talking to them.

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Are you worried?

I’m at a military hospital, the Begin Hospital in Saint-Mandé, near Paris. So the patients we see passing through are often careworkers and helpers themselves, people who work for the state: nurses, firemen for example. It felt good to talk to them. I asked a nurse if she was afraid, she told me that she didn’t have time, that there was no room for fear.

I talk to the patients, it’s a two-way exchange. Their looks, their confidence… it gives me the energy for eliminating this virus!

How did the hospital handle the crisis when it started?

We had an influx of volunteers, retired doctors and students, as well as doctors from the military hospital in Lyon. It’s important to witness these surges of solidarity. I know they’re taking place in France, but also in Italy, where I practised, and in Greece, my home country.

You are a doctor and a politician. How do you manage both activities?

My job as an MEP takes up most of my time, strangely enough, we work even more… from a distance! There are no weekends and no schedule, in confinement. This week I went to the hospital on Tuesday and I’m going back on Saturday.

It’s important for doctors to get involved in politics. When a health crisis happens, like now, the right decisions have to be made, and for that, you need a good knowledge of the field.

You are vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development and particularly committed to the subject of Africa?

Yes, I have been there several times in the last few months. I have made contacts and I am now receiving messages of support from my African contacts, it is comforting. But the crisis that is coming to their homes is very worrying, especially because most people don’t have access to water to wash their hands. And because they live from one day to the next.

Our confinement is very luxurious, with food, Internet, TV. Europeans don’t realise! I went to Rwanda, and there are 25 resuscitation beds in the whole country. And in some countries, there are also AIDS patients with weak immune systems.

The only chance for Africans is that their population is still very young, and very few young people are struck by the virus. But what is certain is that Africa needs specific help and we will work on this.

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(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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