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Greek Hospitals Short on Supplies, Drugs

As Greece prepares to give its banks 50 billion euros ($64.6 billion) and pay some eight billion euros ($10.34 billion) in back bills to creditors, the country’s hospitals are suffering dire shortages of critical equipment, including gloves and gowns, which have spiked infection rates, Europe’s top health official has warned.
Greece already has one of the worst problems in Europe with hospital-acquired infections, and disease experts fear this is being made worse by a severe economic crisis that has cut healthcare staffing levels and hurt standards of care.
It’s so bad in some hospitals that patients have to even bring their own toilet paper, and toilets have none, nor soap for washing hands. Waiting lines for emergency rooms are overrun because people who’s suffered big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions can’t pay for doctors visits, and at some hospitals the wait to see a doctor is hours.
With fewer doctors and nurses to look after more patients, and hospitals running low on cash for supplies, risks are being taken even with basic hygiene, Marc Sprenger, Director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said. “I have seen places…where the financial situation did not allow even for basic requirements like gloves, gowns and alcohol wipes,” Sprenger said after a two-day trip to Athens, where he visited hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
“We already knew Greece is in a very bad situation regarding antibiotic resistant infections, and after visiting hospitals there I’m now really convinced we have reached one minute to midnight in this battle,” he told Reuters in an interview. Sprenger said the situation means patients with highly-infectious diseases like tuberculosis (TB) may not get the treatment they need, raising the risk that dangerous drug-resistant forms will tighten their grip on Europe.
Greece spends 11 billion euros ($14.4 billion) a year on its healthcare system – accounting for just over 5 percent of its total economic output. The government says the system is around 2 billion euros in debt and spending must be cut drastically. Many health workers have lost their jobs and others say they have not been paid for months.
A banner hung up in October by doctors outside Athens’s Evangelismos hospital, one of the city’s best, said simply: “The health system is bleeding.” Exhausted doctors at Greece’s 133 state hospitals cite a lack of staff as well as basic supplies such as cotton wool, catheters, gloves and paper used to cover examination beds.
Another health official who asked to remain anonymous said a senior Athens hospital worker had told him there was no budget left for supplies at that hospital, so all its drug purchases were on credit.
Germany’s Merck said last month it was no longer delivering its cancer drug Erbitux to Greek hospitals, and Biotest, which makes products from blood plasma to treat haemophilia and tetanus, stopped shipments in June because of unpaid bills.
Roberto Bertollini, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist and representative to the European Union, told Reuters he too was worried about the rate of hospital-acquired infections in Greece. He said cuts to resources and staff only make it harder to adhere to infection control and hygiene rules.
“We lack basic supplies to do our jobs,” Vangelis Papamichalis, a neurologist at the Regional Hospital of Serres in northern Greece and a member of the doctors’ union here, told America’s National Public Radio (NPR.)
“We run out of surgical gloves, syringes, vials for blood samples and needles to sew stitches, among other things.” Papamichalis said he wants to stay in Greece and fight to reform the health care system. But his colleague Dimitris Kokkinidis, a hematologist, says he’s lost hope.
“Many days, we run out of vials for blood samples or we don’t have reagents needed to test the blood,” he says. “It’s just tragic.”

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