At the SAFE General Assembly last month (November 2020), SAFE members appointed Hariklia Proios as the new President.

Hariklia is has been on the SAFE board for three years and is the Vice President of the Hellenic Action for Stroke in Greece.

We asked Hariklia about her new role and what her ambitions for SAFE are.

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Why did you want to be SAFE’s next President?

I truly believe in SAFE’s mission and goals and I am proud to be involved in such an important organisation operating at a global, European level. Having a background in organising Stroke Support Organisations for more than 20 years and having worked on stroke-related rehab both in terms of academic research and also in clinical setups, in the United States, Switzerland and now Greece, I believe I have the professional expertise and personal experience to help lead our joint efforts.

Why do you feel that SAFE’s role is important?

SAFE has been involved in educating, campaigning and encouraging research and support organisations but always from the stroke survivors’ perspective, always engaging all stakeholders, including healthcare professionals and guiding policy- making not only at a European but also at a global level. SAFE helps stroke survivors engage their human stories, lives are disclosed to us and this is one of the privileges of being involved in SAFE. I believe that if we pay attention to each story detail, we learn something in the process about how life exists “before and after stroke” and is full of adaptation and change. Stroke is a life-altering experience and so therefore SAFE’s role of improving care for stroke is of utmost importance. I would like to continue to advocate on behalf of SAFE and behalf of stroke survivors as I strongly believe stroke survivors should have a voice throughout the healthcare pathway.

Do you see SAFE changing direction in the coming years?

SAFE members have different entry points, and this organisation is here to share information on policy work, lobbying and maintaining a patient voice through case study examples which are also included, for example, in the SSOFT online faculty tool. It is clear the future will involve increasingly more virtual meetings even though these meetings were guided by the erratic vicissitudes of today’s pandemic. So, communication modes have changed but SAFE has always continued and will continue its mission and goals. In the future, even when we will return to face-to-face General Assembly meetings, Working Conferences and Country Cluster meetings in member countries, providing information about the expectations of support organisations, best practice and care, we will most likely maintain a significant virtual element of support, thus reaching out to stroke survivors and other stakeholders who cannot physically attend.

What will be your top priority as SAFE’s President?

SAFE has initiated and is leading a number of important projects, the continuation and successful completion of which will be of top priority in the next couple of years. These projects include the Stroke Action Plan (2018-2030), which influences national care in all member countries, iwill guide policy-making at a global level and the Life After Stroke forum (taking place in March 2021) which is capitalising on the knowledge of all engaged stakeholders, healthcare professionals, stroke support organisations, research/academic experts, and energised leaders. These projects are just a few among others which will be a key ingredient for SAFE’s success. SAFE will continue to encourage member countries to promote the Economic Burden of Stroke and will in the future deal methodically with complex stroke issues including regional inequalities (eg. gender and environmental), diversity and gaps, converging in parallel with a clear-cut setting of goal priorities.

What excites you most about your new role as President?

Understanding and supporting each member organisation, empathetically and always with positive regard and through dialogue, will help us find common solutions and get all those affected by stroke the access to the help and support they need. Teamwork transforms visions to sustainable solutions. My dedication is and will remain to strategically develop a sustainable SAFE as well as continue to honour its cultural legacy for wanting to make a difference in people’s lives.

What is your ambition for SAFE?

We realise that we have a big role in instituting knowledge and education by raising expectations of what quality of stroke care should be like, by strengthening stroke survivor organisations. Stroke prevention is feasible, acceptable, and cost effective: monitoring an irregular heartbeat (AF) or early treatments such as getting to the emergency room in due time. We must stay mindful of best practices and making a difference for those lives who cannot help themselves. My ambition is to look for and try to embrace all our members’ interests and together we will continue to increase public awareness about stroke as a strategic priority.

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