The price of health

Everything is connected to everything else. In a human body this is seen in the communication between body systems. In a country you see it when an economy suffers and all the disparate parts and functions of the country feel the effects. This has been played out graphically over the last five years in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). One of the countries hardest hit by the GFC has been Greece and the effects on the health of the Greek population are now being felt.

The GFC put enormous pressure on Greece which had a long term history of deficits and high debt-to-GDP ratios. So dire was the Greek situation that on 2nd May 2010, the Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed on a 110 billion Euro bailout loan for Greece, conditional on the country implementing austerity measures, privatising government assets, and making structural reforms in the economy. Unfortunately Greece was slow to implement the second and third of these requirements so that in October 2011, Eurozone leaders offered a second 130 billion Euro bailout loan for Greece, conditional not only the implementation of another austerity package (combined with the continued demands for privatisation and structural reforms outlined in the first programme), but also that all private creditors holding Greek government bonds should sign a deal accepting lower interest rates and a 53.5 per cent face value loss. So for four years times have been tough in Greece and the austerity measures are taking their toll on Greek national health.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge have led a study on what is happening in Greece. They discovered that from 2009 to 2011 the public hospital budget in Greece was cut by 25 per cent. Spending on health is now lower in Greece than in any other pre-2004 European Union member. The bailout package stipulated that the Greek government should shift the cost of healthcare to Greek citizens. At a time when people were losing their jobs and having reduced incomes the government introduced higher costs for medicines and increased costs to visit outpatient clinics.

Signs that the health of the Greek population is in crisis are numerous. HIV incidence has risen 1,000 per cent among injecting drug users between 2009 and 2012. Government funding for mental health decreased by 55 per cent between 2011 and 2012 yet depression increased by 250 per cent between 2008 and 2011. Suicides increased by 45 per cent between 2007 and 2011 and infant mortality increased by 43 per cent between 2008 and 2010.

The authors of the study point out that some countries like Finland and Iceland quarantined health and social spending after the GFC. Given the health problems in Greece that could take decades to turn around, as countries face difficult financial times they would all do well, wherever they are in the world, to realise that you just can’t put a price on things like education and Health.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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