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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 10/11/2011

Report: Greek economic woes affect health care

As Greece’s economic crisis has worsened over the past few years, so has the health of the Greek people. So suggests a report published online Monday in the British medical journal The Lancet.

The report analyzes data for 12,346 people in 2007 (when Greece’s economy tanked) and 15,045 people in 2009 drawn from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions along with reports from medical research institutes, non-governmental organizations and other sources.

Among the findings: People were 15 percent more likely in 2009 than in 2007 to report not having visited a doctor or dentist despite believing it was necessary. But the cost of a visit to the doctor wasn’t the reason; the report notes that under Greece’s universal public health care system, visits to a general practitioner are free and to hospital outpatient clinics quite cheap. So why did people stay away? Long waiting times and travel distance were among the main reasons; many said they had opted just to wait things out till they felt better.

Those access-limiting conditions are the result of economy-driven budget cuts, the authors suggest. As the report says, those long waiting times and travel distances “reflect supply-side problems: there were about 40 percent cuts in hospital budgets, understaffing, reported occasional shortages of medical supplies, and bribes given to medical staff to jump queues in overstretched hospitals.”

The report further observes that from 2007 to 2009, the number of suicides in Greece rose by 17 percent and that the national suicide helpline reported that a quarter of callers said they faced financial troubles. HIV infection rates also have risen dramatically there in recent years, the study says, with half the new infections related to intravenous drug use. Heroin use also increased -- even as alcohol use declined (as did drunken driving).

“Overall, the picture of health in Greece is concerning,” the report said. “It reminds us that, in an effort to finance debts, ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventive services, facing higher risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the worst cases losing their lives.”

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 10/11/2011

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