April 18. 2024. 9:34

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Greek health ministry dodges key questions over EU-funded HPV test project

The Greek Ministry of Health has reacted to reports of possible irregularities in an HPV screening project by saying it was merely following the advice of scientists and the example of other European Union countries while avoiding answering other vital questions.

Euractiv reported on 28 March that the government unexpectedly changed the technical requirements for healthcare companies to participate in an EU Recovery Fund-backed cervical cancer prevention initiative at the last moment, leaving millions of women facing potentially long and unnecessary delays.

In a press release issued on Monday, the health ministry said it followed the advice of “distinguished scientists in our country” who said the country should “follow the example of the Netherlands, France”, with the former being “the most successful European country in HPV-DNA screening”.

The press release continues, “The Netherlands has reduced the number of laboratories performing HPV-DNA tests from 40 to four, with a daily productivity of 450 samples per laboratory.”

It also notes these countries have “state-of-the-art machines that produce more than 300 samples per eight hours”.

Last minute changes

Euractiv reported that the programme, which was supposed to be launched in 2022 and was part of the country’s EU Recovery Plan, was delayed without explanation.

The programme, earmarked for 2.5 million women aged 21-65, was voted on as a bill and published in the Greek government’s official journal in July 2022.

Four months later, in November, the government provided the particular technical requirements for companies and laboratories to participate in the project, but the National Organisation For Health Care Services (EOPYY), which was in charge of implementing the project, put it on hold in April 2023 with no explanation.

In a press release last April, EOPYY said the move was upon request by the then Secretary General of Public Health and current deputy Health Minister Eirini Agapidaki.

The move was a surprise as companies and laboratories had already started investing in the required diagnostic equipment based on the bill’s technical requirements.

On 15 March 2024, the government published a new note about the project in the official journal, changing the technical requirements.

Particularly, the new note provided that the capacity of the machines installed in the analysis laboratories, private or public, performing the HPV-DNA test examinations “to meet the production of 300 results per eight hours independently, without another machine”.

Sources in Greece’s healthcare market contacted Euractiv, claiming the new provision was so specific that it essentially created a tailor-made approach for a company that produces a specific HPV DNA medical device meeting the “300 results per eight hours” requirement.

Euractiv understands that although the ministry cites examples of countries using machines producing “more than 300 samples per eight hours” in its 15 March note, in the official journal, the scope of the requirements remains specific: “300 samples per eight hours” from a single machine.

Ministry speaks

In its press release, the ministry also avoided clarifying why the project was delayed in the first place.

“I have not followed their [prevention programmes] progress because I was no longer a minister”, he said, calling on the journal to address the issue with the health ministry.

Moreover, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said the prevention programmes fall under the responsibility of Agapidaki and denied that a tailor-made approach was adopted.

“It is Mrs Agapidaki’s responsibility. After my investigation into the case, no issues arise. […] More than one company can participate,” he said.

The European Commission told Euractiv last week that the EU executive will assess the cervical cancer prevention project in the context of milestone 165, which is part of Athens’ ninth payment request from the EU Recovery Fund.

Read more with Euractiv

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