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The Human Toll of the Financial Crisis in Greece

The Human Toll of the Financial Crisis in Greece

The financial crisis in Greece is in its fourth year and, inexorably, has been taking a toll on its people’s well-being.  The British medical journal The Lancet recently published an article that shows how difficult things have gotten in Greece. Violence, including rates of homicide and theft, has been on the rise; unemployment rose from 6.6% in May, 2008, to 16.6% in May, 2011, while youth unemployment rose from 18.6% to a staggering 40.1%. These none-too-heartening circumstances have been taking a heavy toll on Greece’s universal health care system.

Compared with 2007 before the crisis, more Greeks reported in 2009 that they did not go to see a doctor or dentist, even though they felt it was necessary. People said they could not afford care, that waiting times in overcrowded hospitals and clinics were too long and that they had to travel too great a distance to get care. Greek hospitals have had  their budgets cut by 40% leading to understaffing and reports of occasional shortages of medical supplies including cancer medications. As a result, some people are simply choosing to wait to see if they get better before seeking care. People also report giving bribes to medical staff as not to have to wait in line at overtaxed hospitals and especially in public ones: Admissions to these rose by 24% in 2010 while, in the same year, there was a 25—30% decline in admissions to private hospitals.

From 2007 – 2009, the number of people eligible for sickness benefits declined. As further austerity measures are implemented, this number is likely to grow. More and more Greeks are turning to street clinics run by NGOs which had previously principally served immigrants. While 3-4 % of Greeks sought medical care from such clinics prior to the financial crisis, the Greek chapter of Médecins du Monde says that 30% now are.  Unofficial data reveal that the suicide rate has increased by 25% in 2010; suicides had previously risen by 17% in 2009 from 2007.

In comparison to 2010, HIV infections have risen by 52%. 2011 saw 922 new cases versus 605 in the previous year, and mostly from infections from intravenous drug users. The Greek Documentation and Monitoring Centre for Drugs found heroin use grew by 20% in 2009. Budgets cuts in 2009 and 2010 led to Greece closing one-third of the country’s street-work programs. An October 2010 survey of 275 drug users in Athens found that 85% were not in a drug rehabilitation program. Indeed, The Lancet report says that “an authoritative report described accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes.”

As of last week, Greece has a new prime minister, Lucas Papademos, the vice president of the European Central Bank until May, who has pledged that Greece will remain in the European Union and commit to the terms of a bailout deal demanded by European leaders and the International Monetary Fund. The question remains how more and more austerity measures will play out in a country whose people are already struggling so much to live on the little they still have.

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Photo taken in August of 2010 in Psiri, Athens, by Kouk

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35 comments

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3:34AM PST on Dec 5, 2011

It's very terrible...I love Greece and it's Greek people. It is my favorite country, for years and years. It is a shame that everything is getting so out of control. You people don't deserve it! All the covernments....and their euro's...I wish we could turn back the clock (10 years ago). I can't do anything about it, but on behave of my covernment: I am sorry... ♥

12:39PM PST on Nov 25, 2011

Being a Greek, it is sad to read that we have caused Euro to have problems. If that were so, then Euro would be a very "soft" currency, indeed. I do not claim that everything was OK in Greece, quite the contrary, but it is always the innocent ones who have to pay, i.e. the taxpayers and not the corrupted politicians. Personally, my income has already shrunk, and keeps shrinking, I cannot calculate my own expenses, have started to mend my old clothes and heat my house very sparsingly, and that only because my husband has major health problems (coronary disease, diabetes, crohn disease). If I did not pay an extra tax for having my own house (which, by the way, I acquired after many years of hard work, and for which I have been taxed through the nose), I would run the risk of having the power cut off. And there is something else which many of our "friends" forget. We pay high interest for the loans given us, this money is not a gift as some governments let their people believe. If this interest does not reach the people, they should ask their leaders.

10:30PM PST on Nov 20, 2011

By the way, Mara. I think it's largely the other way round. The crisis in Greece wasn't caused by the Euro, the crisis in the Euro was caused by Greece.

10:26PM PST on Nov 20, 2011

Clearly, this is just dreadful and our best wishes are with the Greek people.

The sadness is that it was so avoidable. You just can't run an economy the way the Greeks were. Many people were receiving a fine old wage while paying taxes was virtually voluntary. So I'm afraid it's kind of seven years of plenty, seven years of famine.

I do wish them well till the country is back on it's feet again, but I suspect that many of their best and brightest young people will use their right to travel within the E.U. and be gone by then.

10:14PM PST on Nov 20, 2011

damn :( It's so disheartening to see a great and history rich country go downhill like this. I wonder what Plato or Socrates would have thought about this ...

6:42PM PST on Nov 20, 2011

The article doesn't even mention the toll that mental depression is taking there, and the escalating suicide rate. These are very telling medical statistics, every bit as important as how often and how many people get care, prescriptions and hospital admissions. Take a good hard look at what corruption, incompetent management, and granting so much power to the highly paid 'wizards' of international finance has wrought. I doubt the U.S. will be next -- unless the Republican'ts get the Senate and the White House.

9:29AM PST on Nov 18, 2011

The youth have been robbed of their future with this high of unemployment in Greece. The national debt is astounding and affecting other countries like dominos. Scary

2:09PM PST on Nov 17, 2011

Nancy L. says: "We're on our way to being another Greece - hopefully Obama will be out soon and we'll have a chance."

By "we" I suppose you mean the 1%. By "another chance" I suppose you mean back to looting and stealing as you've been doing for the last 30 years,.


9:26AM PST on Nov 17, 2011

We're on our way to being another Greece - hopefully Obama will be out soon and we'll have a chance.

8:42PM PST on Nov 16, 2011

The European Union and their Euros caused this downfall. Greece should have stuck with the Drachma.

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