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Greece: Financial crisis 'linked to rising rates of HIV'

Harsh health spending cuts see increases in problems tuberculosis, depression and infant mortality

Researchers warned yesterday that Greece’s financial crisis is taking a deep toll on the health of its citizens, including rising rates of HIV, tuberculosis, depression and infant deaths.

Since the bailout and the subsequent harsh austerity regime hit several years ago, government health spending has been repeatedly slashed and hundreds of thousands of people have been left without health insurance.

As cuts have been made to Aids prevention programmes, rates of HIV and tuberculosis in drug users have spiked sharply and suicides increased by about 45 per cent.

The prevalence of major depression more than doubled from 2008 to 2011.

Suicides and mental health problems tend to be under-reported, so “this is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” said Cambridge University researcher Alexander Kentikelenis.

Mr Kentikelenis said it would take years to measure the long-term consequences of no regular access to health care, particularly with chronic conditions.

He also reported a 21 per cent rise in stillbirths.

“Some pregnant women no longer have access to health care, therefore complications later in pregnancy can be more pronounced,” he said. Infant deaths, which had previously been falling, jumped by more than 40 per cent between 2008 and 2010.

This was linked to babies not getting enough to eat and fewer medical check-ups, as families cut off from state health care couldn’t afford private treatment.

Medical charity Doctors of the World said it has doubled the number of programmes in Greece since the crisis began.

Though the charity originally started its operations in Greece mainly to treat vulnerable refugees, deputy director Nathalie Simonnot said it was increasingly treating ordinary Greeks with no means of getting health care.

Ms Simonnot also reported rising numbers of pregnant women unable to afford hospital visits and diabetics who had to choose between buying food or insulin.

She wasn’t optimistic the government would be able to reverse the situation soon, and hit at the 2012 reintroduction of a law forcing drug users, prostitutes and immigrants to be tested for infectious diseases under police supervision.

“That’s a complete violation of their human rights,” she said.


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