We must learn to protect our planet and live according to the laws of health
Minister of Health Danica Grujičić tackled numerous challenges and set out to change the health system according to the vision of a doctor with many years of operational experience. See what she says about it in an interview she gave us exclusively for our Healthcare And Pharmacy extra.
It is impossible to start this interview without asking about the coronavirus. We are witnessing that it is coming back again and, it seems, in a big way – different, more resistant and undetectable. Is it more dangerous, and does the existing vaccine work against it?
At the moment, the so-called season of flu and respiratory diseases is underway. This is where various viruses and different strains mix. It is difficult always to tell which strain it is. There is indeed an increased number of positives. However, the number of seriously ill patients has increased significantly. We are monitoring the situation day by day. For now, our country is supplied with all necessary medicines and vaccines. I advise people to always listen to their chosen doctors’ recommendations and not seek advice on various websites that have nothing to do with medicine.
The World Health Organization seems to haven’t managed the crisis and the pandemic quite well. Their decisions were often counterproductive, late, illogical, or confusing. We’ve seen that their influence on governments worldwide was far from effective, and it hasn’t produced any results – many countries just ignored the World Health Organization and followed their own rules.
I would avoid speaking in the name of the WHO, and I would pay no attention to them right now. The existence of the Coronavirus brought to the world something new, at least to the current generations. We’ve seen many people who have no education talk about the pandemic, while on the other hand, we had rushed reports by my colleagues from all over the world. Politics and economy would also join this mix, which allowed doubt to develop, hence the coming up of conspiracy theories as well. Of course, it’s easy to comment today on these things from a distance, but I want to believe that the pandemic made us smarter as a society. My words from the past have been confirmed at the very beginning of the pandemic, I said that this virus was an artificial one. This happens mostly when people want to “play god,” and a catastrophe ensues. We have to learn to keep our planet safe and to live according to the laws of health.
You need to restore trust in your doctor, and that’s what we’re working on. We bring the entire health system down to the primary care physician and the so-called family doctor. Regarding trust, I have been saying for the last 10 years that we must preserve and restore Torlak as the largest domestic immunological house. We have managed to preserve it. We are investing a lot, and a big move is being made there. I believe Torlak will once again become what it once was – an Institute recognized by the world. Just as the army and the police are important for the country’s security, vaccine sovereignty is also strategically important. We must produce all vaccines for our fellow citizens, especially our youngest. In this way, we will not be envious of other countries, and we will achieve complete safety for parents when we talk about vaccination.
Just as the army and the police are important for the country’s security, vaccine sovereignty is also strategically important
There is constant talk about the cancer epidemic in Serbia. Where’s the truth? Is the bombing we went through in the past the main reason, or is our unhealthy lifestyle that characterizes society responsible?
Serbia has about 41,000 malignant diagnoses per year. Various factors affect it. There are so-called historical pollutions, as in every country, and the number of patients is affected by hereditary factors and our lifestyle habits. We must be aware that the way we live entails certain consequences. What is definitely proven is that 95% of people who suffer from lung cancer are smokers. What we can say with certainty is that smoking causes cancer. As a society, we have to make certain decisions. Sometimes, we must give up our habits to avoid as many potential risks as possible. We must decide what is more important, some superficial pleasures or health. When we talk about NATO aggression and its impact on the environment, I always point out, together with many of the biggest names in our science, that a nuclear and chemical war was waged against the then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. There is something called hazard maps; they are objects that can lead to a disaster for the wider environment in the event of an accident. During the aggression, all objects were targeted, affecting the pollution of the environment and, thus, people’s health. In addition to depleted uranium, which somehow got the most attention from the public and which we can say with certainty affects the occurrence of diseases, as proven by the courts in Italy, chemical pollution, refineries, weapons factories, transformer stations were targeted. All that went into the water, air, and earth. It must be investigated in detail. I am not a supporter of “tabloid” reporting on the consequences of the bombing, I believe that mathematics and science must work in the end.
What’s most important to point out, and I’m speaking to the public in hopes that they support this, is the construction of the new building for the Institute of Oncology and Radiology of Serbia. This is absolutely necessary. With this number of patients in Serbia, the capacity and conditions in the old building are unsustainable. We are working on it rapidly. The PDR document has been prepared, which has passed the Government and all ministries, and we are waiting for it to be adopted by the Belgrade City Assembly. I consider the new Institute the biggest project in our healthcare recently, of course, with the completion of four clinical centers. It will be the most modern and largest regional Institute. Also, we are working on the analysis and entry into the reconstruction of all oncology departments throughout Serbia. The space where our patients receive therapy must be much larger and more refined. When they were formed, there were not so many patients. Today, the situation is different, and special attention must be paid to oncology patients.
Does our country have a strategy for fighting cancer? Why are specialized institutes for researching this disease and clinics for treatment not being developed? Do oncology patients from the provinces have to flock to Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Nis to receive quality treatment?
This process requires everyone to be involved, both the country and its citizens. We’ve done a lot of gathering the necessary equipment for diagnostics. Only in the last couple of years did we get 55 scanners and magnets. We continue to obtain even more diagnostic equipment, magnets, scanners, mammograms, and ultrasound machines. The goal is to equip every health institution with diagnostic equipment. With this, we can increase the number of preventive check-ups to stop or reveal the disease in its early stages so it can be treated more easily. In addition to procuring equipment, we are currently working on a project with 100 clinics that we will bring to all districts and fully equip them with diagnostic equipment. What I am advocating is the family doctor, that is, restoring trust in your doctor. That is why we are working on the formation of these clinics, where they will be stationary and where they will be mobile. The goal is to provide equal health care for all our citizens from Subotica to Prizren. Also, another problem we are facing is the departure of our doctors from small communities. We must think of a way to get them interested in young colleagues to return to small communities. The goal of our call is to help those who need help. Thanks to the development of state-of-the-art equipment, medicine does not belong only to big cities, but it can also be in the countryside. Young doctors must understand that prevention and early diagnosis are the basis of health care, I say this today as someone who has spent 40 years in the operating room. We will continue to invest and work on organizing family medicine and early diagnostics.
Early diagnosis is the basis of healthcare
Serbia seems to fall behind neighboring countries in the region when we talk about therapies for many very serious and dangerous diseases. Why are there not more innovative and modern therapies for various types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, and many rare diseases?
The Republic of Serbia has done a lot when it comes to rare diseases. Of course, it can always be better, but you can see consistent improvements, and we are working on every year being better than the last one. I’ll remind you that in 2012, Serbia’s budget for rare diseases has been 130 000 000 dinars. Today, it amounts to 7 200 000 000 dinars. In addition, additional funds were always provided, so in 2021, it amounted to 200 million dinars. In 2022, during the coronavirus crisis, it was 600 million dinars. In 2023, even 3 billion dinars went through rebalancing. This means that the state takes care of and thinks of those who need help the most. When we talked about the number of patients in 2012, 8 were treated. Today, up to this moment, that number is 680 patients. And that’s not the end. By the end of the year, there will be more. When treating diseases, in 2012, there were 2 diseases. Today it is over 30. Some will say that it is not enough. Of course, others may still need help, but you cannot do everything overnight. This is a huge shift, and I expect even more next year.