In sickness, Greek islanders rely on volunteers - and God

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Greek island without any doctors
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Greek island without any doctors
An Orthodox priest reads the gospel during the baptism of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A local waits to be examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team on the island of Fournoi, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A disused gynaecologist chair is seen outside the disused Thymaina's medical centre, on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A bouquet of flowers offered by the locals to the doctors of the Aegean Team is seen on a desk of a school classroom used as an examination hall on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Dionysia Amorgianou, 82, is examined by a volunteer oculist of the Aegean Team on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Numbers are displayed on the wall as Dionysia Amorgianou, 82, is examined by a volunteer oculist of the Aegean Team on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Chrysoula Markaki sees her grandchildren after finishing her visit at the gynaecologist on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Locals wait to be examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team on the island of Fournoi, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
An Orthodox priest reads the gospel during the baptism of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A local carries medical supplies as volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team arrive to visit patients on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A volunteer doctor of the Aegean Team gestures from onboard an inflatable speedboat during preparations for the trip in Lagonisi, east of Athens, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A vessel of the Aegean Team leaves Fournoi to visit patients on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Petros Markakis holds his son Minas, the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Children play in a school yard where locals come to be examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team on the island of Fournoi, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
The island of Fournoi is seen from a sea taxi travelling from Thymaina to Fournoi, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Locals on a boat light up flares to celebrate the baptism of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Inhabitants of the islet of Thymaina welcome the volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team with flares, in Thymaina, Greece May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Friends and relatives attend the baptism of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A priest arrives for the baptism of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A local man arrives to be examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team, on the islet of Thymaina, Greece May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A local woman holds her medical booklet as she waits to be examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Friends and relatives attend the baptism of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A local man is examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team after a heart incident on the island of Fournoi, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Volunteer cardiologist of the Aegean Team Nikos Patsourakos (R), 45, examines local Kostas Amorgianos on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Residents of Fournoi use a sea taxi to cross from the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A volunteer doctor of the Aegean Team examines a local woman on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Chrysoula Markaki holds her medical booklet as she waits to be examined by volunteer doctors of the Aegean Team on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A local prepares to go fishing on the islet of Thymaina, Greece, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
An Orthodox priest touches the head of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, during the baptism on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Doctors of the Aegean Team depart for the island of Donousa from the island of Fournoi, Greece May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Doctors of the Aegean Team depart for the island of Donousa from the island of Fournoi, Greece May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Volunteer gynaecologist Stefanos Handakas, the godfather of the first baby born on the islet of Thymaina after six years, with the financial support of the Aegean Team doctors, holds the baby during the baptism on the islet of Ayios Minas, Greece, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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THYMAINA, Greece, May 25 (Reuters) - When locals on this Aegean island fall ill, first they turn to their medicine cabinet. Then they turn to God.

There is no doctor on Thymaina, a barren, wind-swept island in eastern Greece with just 150 residents. Like others in the region, they must travel to a bigger island, or Athens, but in winter the seas are rough and the conditions unforgiving.

"In winter we count on Saint George," said Dionysia Amorgianou, an 82-year-old woman, pointing to a white-and-blue chapel soaring above the harbor. "We pray that he keeps us healthy because we are neglected here. Isolated."

Greece's far-flung islands have long suffered with shortages of doctors and care services, and no relief is in sight after years of economic crisis and austerity.

The publicly funded system of free or low-cost health care that millions of Greeks relied on has shrunk, largely because of spending cuts demanded by international lenders in exchange for three financial rescue packages Greece has received since 2010.

Islands with fewer than 1,000 residents have not had a permanent doctor in years.

"We struggle a lot in winter and we're scared," said Stylianos Markakis, a retired seaman whose 40-year-old son suffers from a rare and progressively debilitating genetic disorder.

Locals count the days to summer, when volunteer doctors calling themselves Aegean Team set off from Athens on inflatable speedboats and carry out checks and blood tests on remote islands.

On a recent visit, church bells rang out in celebration as the team steered their boats into Thymaina port at dusk. Smoke grenades and firecrackers exploded.

They set up examining rooms in an abandoned clinic and people's homes. Makeshift signs directed patients to the cardiologist, the gynecologist, the eye doctor and others.

"Here they're second-class citizens," said Nikos Touroutoglou, an oncologist. Years have gone by without a resident general practitioner, creating gaps in treatment.

"These gaps cannot be filled with a huge cabinet of drugs," he said.

The problems for the next generation are starker. This month emotions ran high at the baptism of Thymaina's first newborn in six years. Couples are putting off having children because even nearby islands lack the infrastructure, said Stefanos Chandakas, a gynecologist leading a team of doctors tackling low birth rates on remote islands.

The costs of a routine, 50-euro exam would add up to 1,000 for a woman traveling to Athens, he said.

In Thymaina, the team covered the family's costs throughout pregnancy - 10,000 euros ($11,245) - and are now offering their services on 27 islands without a single birth between them in four years.

Local governors have offered young doctors incentives, including free food and shelter, to fill island vacancies, but many are reluctant to go.

Florentia Christodoulidou, who joined Aegean Team from New York, echoed the sentiment of colleagues in Athens.

"Every one of them told me the same thing: If everything goes OK, you are OK. Something goes wrong, it's just you and God," she said.

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