For more than 30 years, Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, a Greek philanthropist and advocate for human rights, the protection of children’s health and welfare and for a world without borders in health, has been helping thousands of children to be cured.
In 1993, she created the first Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Greece where 1200 children from Greece, the Mediterranean and Balkans, received bone marrow transplants, free of charge. In 2010, she created the first Pediatric Oncology Hospital in Greece, recording 150,000 hospitalizations of children, which has been affiliated with other hospitals such as Johns Hopkins (USA), Sick Kids (Canada), Princess Maxima Pediatric Oncology Center (the Netherlands) etc.
In 2014, she established a Bone Marrow Donor Registry providing transplants for children and adults all over the world, and in 2020, set up the first Cell and Gene Therapy Center in Greece.
On 17 July this year, the President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, announced Mrs. Vardinoyannis and Dr. Morissana Kouyaté of Guinea, the laureates of the United Nations 2020 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.
“We have two really good laureates, a man and a woman. These are ordinary people who, like in the life of Mandela, have made efforts to achieve great things especially for those who are often ignored, or the marginalized or oppressed,” the President of the General Assembly told Africa Renewal.
He congratulated Mrs. Vardinoyannis and Dr. Kouyaté and thanked the selection committee for its hard work and dedication.
The Prize was established in June 2014 by the General Assembly to recognize the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purpose and principles of the United Nations while honouring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation. The prestigious prize is awarded every five years.
“I could never have imagined that I would, one day, receive such an immense honour and feel so greatly moved,” said Mrs. Vardinoyannis, after being announced a winner.
Mrs. Vardinoyannis explained how in the 1990s, many children lost their lives from cancer in Greece, and how the dramatic efforts of parents to raise money to take their children abroad, for cancer therapy, inspired her to establish “ELPIDA”, meaning “hope”, and the first, Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Greece.
“In the beginning, it was very hard on me to witness the real tragedy faced by parents and I could not sleep, thinking of the tear-filled eyes of mothers, who desperately looked to me for help. So, I took the decision to stay strong and I even went to operating rooms to encourage them during the difficult operations,” she said.
This decision became the motto she lives by: “It is worth fighting for even one child’s life and I will never give up”.
She had to fight not just cancer but also the prejudice and discrimination, towards cancer patients.