A group of Belgian doctors and the Greek branch of Doctors of the World have launched an awareness campaign on the Greek health system that is on the verge of collapse.
The “Emergency Greece” campaign has called the medical situation in Greece “apocalyptic,” blaming the European Union austerity policies, according to a EurActiv France report.
Through the Emergency Greece initiative, the doctors launched an appeal for donations and a petition to convince the EU to spare the country’s medical sector from the severe budget cuts imposed on the country as part of its bailout deal.
The fundraising activities include the organization of conferences and the sale of first aid kits and Greek meals in university canteens. The EU has put health as a top priority for member states, however it has not excluded the Greek health sector from the austerity measures imposed on the country.
The catastrophic effects austerity has on health and access to healthcare are likely to cause lasting, costly damage that could harm Greece’s long-term economic recovery.
The report explains the Greek health system as it was until the onset of the economic crisis in 2010. It was based on occupational insurance funds, which were regularly bailed out by the state. This failed system was due for an overhaul, but the Greek crisis struck before changes could be enacted. Budget cuts were compounded by an increase in unemployment and a reduction in social security payments, and in just a few years, the Greek Health Ministry’s budget was cut in half, the report says.
The disastrous results were a rise in child mortality (51%), neonatal mortality (32%) and child poverty. At the same time, around three million people are living in insecurity, with no health insurance, and a third of the population cannot afford to heat their homes in winter.
Furthermore, Greece has also seen vast increases in Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) infections, cardiovascular problems linked to stress and the spread of HIV. Add to this a lack of medicines and an increasing number of patients relying on underfunded public hospitals (only a small elite can now afford private healthcare in Greece) and the outlook is bleak.
According to Emergency Greece, the country is also experiencing a large increase in mental health problems (depression, etc.) linked to the extremely difficult economic situation.
And the country’s medical problems are beginning to touch other areas of society: as the number of unvaccinated children reaches dangerously high levels, more and more are being excluded from school.
“I was well prepared and I think I was well informed on the subject, but when I visited the hospitals of Thessaloniki, I was confronted by an apocalyptic situation,” said Yvon Englert, the coordinator of the Emergency Greece project. The gynaecologist and former dean of the faculty of medicine at the francophone Free University of Brussels visited Greece at the end of 2015 and returned “flabbergasted” by what he saw, according to EurActiv.
Due to cuts, the state delays or no longer reimburses public hospitals for the care they provide, and many are now tens of millions of euros in debt. Providers of medical equipment have cut down their deliveries and clinics have been left without many of their basic provisions. Healthcare professionals are distressed, powerless to help and often depressed.
“Every week, the director of the university hospital meets the heads of service to decide which types of care they will cut. I am talking about care for patients that still have social security, but that are forced to bring their own medical equipment in order to receive the care they need,” Englert said.
Originally, Doctors of the World set up in Greece to offer care to refugees and migrants passing through. But today, 45% of the patients the organization treats in Piraeus are Greeks who have nowhere else to turn.
The Emergency Greece initiative has several points of focus. Part of the money collected will be used to fund a new polyclinic in Piraeus by Doctors of the World, which will specialize in psychiatric care, but will also distribute food parcels to poor Greeks. On the island of Euboea, Emergency Greece plans to establish eight dispensaries and a health center.
Finally, in Thessaloniki, the NGO hopes to provide incubators for babies and reagents for blood testing. With premature births becoming increasingly common, due to the poverty of the city’s residents, incubators are an indispensable tool: without the right equipment, the majority of premature babies cannot be saved. Reagents are vital for testing the safety and compatibility of blood for transfusions.
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