Healthcare System Buckling Under Pressure of Cuts

BMI View : The retrenchment in healthcare expenditure in Greece is seriously affecting citizens' access to medical services and threatens to undermine disease prevention and treatment programmes. The rise in incidences of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, West Nile virus and other communicable diseases clearly indicate that Greece's healthcare system is failing its citizens. The Greek government, while under pressure from the troika of lenders to curtail spending, must prioritise healthcare spending as the threat of an epidemic looms over the country. The cost of indecision on this issue threatens to spiral into a much more serious public health crisis of the sort usually reserved for developing countries.

Greece is facing the possibility of several infectious disease epidemics as its healthcare system struggles to keep afloat amid major budget cuts and reduction in services. The country's hospitals have accrued severe levels of debt through non-payment of suppliers and pharmacies. Moreover, the state health insurer, the National Organisation for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY) has also run up staggering debts in medical services and prescriptions to the extent that private clinics and pharmacies are turning away patients insured by the EOPYY or accepting cash payments only. And in an even more worrying sign, major drugmakers such as Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk and Roche have pulled out products from Greece due to non-payment or unprofitable price ceilings.

The financial crisis and political turmoil in the country has exacerbated demands on the healthcare system, with incidences of depression, suicide, alcoholism and drug use spiralling and communicable diseases on the rise. The IMF, as part of Greece's bailout package, has demanded the country reduce its spending on healthcare from 10% of GDP to 6%. These cuts to spending are directly affecting the containment of infectious diseases and preventative programmes.

Greek Healthcare Spending Slashed
EURbn, 2005-2017f

Reports of malaria to Greece are increasingly common. This is concerning development in an EU member state and a worrying indicator for other European states embarking on contractionary fiscal policy. The country has also seen a flood of illegal immigrants who have brought with them communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses, all of which have been increasingly reported in a country that had virtually eradicated them almost forty years ago.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control noted that HIV infections among drug users and other high-risk groups such as sex workers was rising worryingly fast, as programmes offering free clean needles, syringes and opioid substitutes were scaled back or cancelled altogether. While HIV can be treated with a combination of drugs, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is very expensive and requires life-long treatment, at an average cost of EUR16,000 (US$20,000) per year. The cost of treating an HIV epidemic will undoubtedly draw funding for medicines away from other crucial areas such as oncology, and therefore funding for preventative measures must be brought to bear immediately.

Potential Resurgence Of HIV Epidemic
Number Of Newly HIV-diagnosed Drug Injecting Users, Greece

The state of Greek hospitals is also a major cause for concern. The dire financial situation of many has meant that supplies of essential medical gear such as gloves, gowns and alcohol wipes is in short supply in a country that has repeatedly been warned over its hospital infection rates. The breakdown of standards of care threatens to reverse a decline in multi-drug resistant infections such as MRSA and MDR-TB and increase the burden on the already fragile healthcare system. All in all, the Greek government must prioritise the refinancing of hospitals and reconsider cuts to healthcare spending in the wake of these developments.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare
Geography: Greece, Greece, Greece, Greece

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