Opinion: Greek medicine

POSTED: 10/11/11 1:33 PM

A crisis in the economy is not just about money; it touches all aspects of life. A research that was published in the British medical journal The Lancet on Monday describes how the crisis in Greece has affected not only the healthcare system but also the general health of the population. There is an increase in suicides, there are more HIV-infections, fewer visits to the doctor, and problems with the availability of medication. On the upside, the Greeks have started to drink less.
Martin McKee, who works for the London school of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says that the example of Greece is a warning for what could happen if a recession leads to cuts in the healthcare-budget.
The researchers show that the number of suicides in Greece is rising rapidly. Between 2007 and 2009 the increase was 17 percent, in 2010 it was 25 percent and in the first six months of this year an astonishing 40 percent.
And that’s not all folks: the number of HIV-infections is also on the rise. This is due to cuts in the programs to assist junkies and prostitutes. There are also reports that drug users willingly infect themselves with the virus to qualify for better social facilities and higher social benefits.
The import of medication in Greece is faltering. Greece has negotiated high discounts from pharmaceutical companies, but in the state healthcare system many invoices remain unpaid, or they are paid in state bonds and their real value is at least questionable.
The Swiss company Roche has stopped supplying a number of Greek hospitals with anti-cancer medication and advises its patients to buy them in a pharmacy.
Patients in Greece also complain that many doctors demand bribes, but that is nothing new. Every Greek knows the tradition of the fakelaki (little envelope). The system has been around for decades. Handing over an envelope with the proper content will make bureaucracy in the Greek healthcare system disappear like snow before the sun, and it will also ensure the best possible treatment.
Greek doctors have also a habit of inflating their bills for tourists, arguing that their costs are covered by an insurance company anyway. It is not unusual to get a request from a Greek doctor to double or even triple a bill that the patient can later claim from the insurer.
How do we make sure that the Greek crisis does not travel across the ocean to the Caribbean and subsequently to St. Maarten? We have enough HIV-infections as it is, and we really do not need more suicides. On the other hand, some people would certainly benefit from drinking less, but to achieve this goal with the here described Greek medicine is something not many people are looking forward to.

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