Greek Public-Health Tragedy Looms, Academics Write in Lancet

The financial catastrophe in Greece is damaging public health and wellbeing, according to six medical academics including Alexander Kentikelenis and David Stuckler of Cambridge University and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In a letter published in the Lancet, a medical journal with offices in London, New York and Beijing, they analyzed European Union statistics based on replies by 12,346 and 15,045 Greeks in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

The group said 2009 saw significant increases in the number of people reporting that they didn’t see a doctor or dentist despite feeling it was necessary to do so, and in those reporting that their health was “bad” or “very bad.”

Since Greece’s public health-care system entitles citizens to visit general practitioners free of charge and to attend hospital outpatient clinics at low cost, the reduced access probably reflected the fact that there were cuts of about 40 percent in hospital budgets, understaffing, occasional shortages of medical supplies, and bribery of medical staff to jump queues at overcrowded hospitals, the group wrote.

The number of suicides was 17 percent higher in 2009 than in 2007, unofficial figures cited in parliament mentioned a 25 percent increase in 2010 compared with 2009, and the minister of health reported a 40 percent rise in the first half of 2011 compared with the year-earlier period, according to the letter.

Greece’s national suicide helpline reported that 25 percent of callers in 2010 faced financial difficulties, the group said, concluding that “greater attention to health and health-care access is needed to ensure that the Greek crisis does not undermine the ultimate source of the country’s wealth -- its people.”

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