Austerity measures blamed for Greek health woes

By Charlie Cooper

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

Austerity measures imposed by the Greek Government since the economic crisis have inflicted "shocking" harm on the health of the population, leaving nearly a million people without access to healthcare, experts have said.

In a damning report on the impact of spending cuts on the Greek health system, academics found evidence of rising infant mortality rates, soaring levels of HIV infection among drug users, the return of malaria, and a spike in the suicide count.

Greece's public hospital budget was cut by 25 per cent between 2009 and 2011 and public spending on pharmaceuticals has more than halved, leading to some medicine becoming unobtainable, experts from Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said.

Rising unemployment in a country where health insurance is linked to work status has led to an estimated 800,000 people lacking either state welfare or access to health services and in some areas international humanitarian organisations such as Medecins du Monde have stepped in to provide healthcare and medicines to vulnerable people.

The report, which is published today in the medical journal The Lancet, accuses the Greek Government and the international community - which demanded cuts as a condition of bailing out the Greek economy during the debt crisis between 2010 and 2012 - of being "in denial" about the scale of hardship inflicted on the Greek people.

"The cost of austerity is being borne mainly by ordinary Greek citizens, who have been affected by the largest cutbacks to the health sector seen across Europe in modern times," said senior author Dr David Stuckler, of Oxford University. "We hope this research will help the Greek Government mount an urgently needed response to these escalating human crises."

Greece was forced to make massive cutbacks to meet the terms of twin bailout packages, totalling 240 billion ($396.5 billion), offered by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Health spending was capped at 6 per cent of GDP.

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