Health effects of Greece’s austerity measures are “worse than imagined,” report researchers

Sophie Arie
London

Greece’s severe economic crisis has had a substantially negative effect on public health that provides a warning for other countries faced with similar challenges, the authors of a report published in the American Journal of Public Health have said.1

Researchers at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and the University of New Mexico in the United States said that
a sharp deterioration in major indicators of public health had accompanied the worsening of the Greek economy over recent years, as incomes fell and unemployment soared. Suicide and murder rates rose by 22.7% and 27.6%, respectively, between 2007 and 2009, while deaths from infectious diseases rose by 13.2% in the same period. Sharp increases in substance abuse and mental health problems were also recorded.

The authors said that evidence from Greece and from previous economic crises elsewhere implied that reduced household incomes and purchasing power, as a result of unemployment and cuts in real wages, could lead to reduced health expenditure by households, lower use of private health services, and greater use of public sector services, especially those that are free or low cost at the point of delivery.

In Greece, these trends have happened at a time when government spending on healthcare has been slashed. Compared with 2010, use of public inpatient and primary care services in 2011 rose by 6.2% and 21.9%, respectively. Meanwhile, government health spending was cut by 23.7% between 2009 and 2011, with many services being privatised and staff levels in the public sector being cut dramatically.

Elias Kondilis of Aristotle University, lead author of the study, said: “We were expecting that these austerity policies would negatively affect health services and health outcomes, but the results were much worse than we imagined.”

The authors said their findings indicated that austerity policies were likely to cause deteriorating health conditions elsewhere in Europe and also in the US. They argued that past resistance to pressure from international financial institutions to reduce public investment in health services in Latin American countries—such as Argentina, Venezuela, and Ecuador—had been followed by improvements in health and economic indicators that may otherwise not have occurred.

1 Kondilis E, Giannakopoulos E, Gavana M, Ierodiakonou I, Waitzkin H, Benos A. Economic
crisis, restrictive policies, and the population’s health and health care: the Greek case.

Am J Public Health 2013, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301126.

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2740

© BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2013

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