Dr Costas Costa is a general practitioner at Sydney’s Hurlstone Park Medical Centre who was recently honoured on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his services to medicine.
However, Dr. Costa sends a clear message regarding the recognition in an interview with The Greek Herald.
“It’s great to get an award but it’s a bit sad that things are going the opposite way through everything I tried to achieve in a public health sense,” he tells me.
He clarifies that he’s “somewhat conflicted” about the honour.
“It is difficult because anyone can come up to me and call me a hypocrite, couldn’t they?”, but says, “On the other hand, people are saying it’s not just for you, it’s for all those people that work with you, for all those organisations…”
“[The Federal Government is] rewarding the doctors that try to make the thing [sic] better but you’re not listening to them,” he says.
He tells me the irony isn’t lost on him that the Commonwealth is handing a general practitioner (GP) an honour while, at the same time, rolling back Medicare rebates.
“Medicare is being remanded as a second-class system for the poor. [The government] froze the rebate and they’re forcing the doctors to … go back to a private billing system except for the very poor people or the pensioners,” he says.
It’s not just the proposed Medicare reforms which reflect a disparity in healthcare access today, he says.
According to Dr Costa Australia is among the few rich countries yet to waive the COVID-19 intellectual property patent to help speed up the vaccine manufacture and rollout.
He goes on to draw parallels between the current COVID-19 vaccine patents to the patent on the anti-AIDS treatment zidovudine (AZT) in Africa during the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s.
Who is Dr. Costas Costa?
As a second-generation Cypriot Australian, Dr. Costa knows better than most how important it is to universalise healthcare, particularly for lower socio-economic communities.
His mother was a few months pregnant with Costa before she set out for the 13-and-a-half thousand kilometre boat voyage from Akari, Cyprus, to Australia.
“I was born six months after [my parents] arrived, so I’m pure Aussie if you like,” he jokes.
“I remember as a young person when our family struggled to go to the doctor.”
He took these experiences and put them at the forefront of his ethical medical practice, including his work with the “Save the Children” fund in Bangladesh and his practice in the days pre-Medicare.
“Naturally, for me being from Greek background, I fell into a Greek type of practice or cohort and obviously the Greeks at that time, going back 30 to 40 years, were all factory workers, labourers… the workers,” he says.
“Understanding their background, where they’re coming from, that’s very important for doctors.”
If there’s a way to define Costas’ medical practice, it’s his signature phrase to his patients.
“I always say to my patients, ‘I’ll give you these tablets. They’ll help you 20 per cent. The other 80 per cent is up to you’,” he tells me.
A lifelong member of the Cyprus Community
Costas is a lifetime member and strong supporter of the Cyprus Community Club in Sydney’s inner west suburb of Stanmore.
He says he’s fought tooth-and-nail to save the club’s site from “greedy developers”.
“The developers didn’t realise they were up against Cypriots,” he says.
“We’ve been done over by a lot bigger than them.”
The club has experienced turbulence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has eventually raised millions through the historic Cyprus Capital fund to repay loans and save the club from bankruptcy, he says.
The value of the Club’s site in Stanmore just recently shot to somewhere between “$70 and $80 million” after the Inner West Council (IWC) gave the site gateway to rezone, Costa says.
He says the survival of the historic club means that younger generations can “continue that connection to language, culture, and the motherland Cyprus”.