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Govt and troika are 'in denial' about harmful effects of health cuts

Lancet report finds rising infant mortality, spike in suicide, soaring HIV levels and a return of malaria in Greece

The rejection by successive Greek governments about the harmful effects of austerity on health 'meets the criteria for denialism, which refuses to acknowledge, and indeed attempts to discredit, scientific research', an article in The Lancet claims

People wait at the Metropolitan Community Clinic in Elliniko, Athens, which treats uninsured people denied access to the public health service. There are an estimated 3m Greeks without social insurance, around a quarter of the population (Photo: AFP) People wait at the Metropolitan Community Clinic in Elliniko, Athens, which treats uninsured people denied access to the public health service. There are an estimated 3m Greeks without social insurance, around a quarter of the population (Photo: AFP) The government and the troika are “in denial” about the scale of the hardship inflicted on the people of Greece by unprecedented cuts in health spending, experts have claimed in one of the world’s leading medical journals.

In a damning article published in The Lancet (pdf), academics from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that the scientific evidence does not support government claims that deep public-spending cuts have not damaged health and that vulnerable groups, such as the homeless or uninsured people, have not been denied access to healthcare.

“In view of this detailed body of evidence for the harmful effects of austerity on health, the failure of public recognition of the issue by successive Greek governments and international agencies is remarkable,” the report states.

“Indeed, the predominant response has been denial that any serious difficulties exist … This dismissal meets the criteria for denialism, which refuses to acknowledge, and indeed attempts to discredit, scientific research.”

The report found evidence of rising infant mortality rates, soaring levels of HIV infection among drug users, the return of malaria, and a surge in the suicides from 2009 and 2011.

It said troika-and government-sanctioned austerity measures have inflicted “shocking” harm on the health of the Greek population, leaving 800,000 without access to healthcare or social security, mainly because they lost their public health insurance after being unemployed for more than a year.

“The cost of adjustment is being borne mainly by ordinary Greek citizens. They are subject to one of the most radical programmes of welfare-state retrenchment in recent times, which in turn affects population health. Yet despite this clear evidence, there has been little agreement about the causal role of austerity,” says the report, entitled Greece's health crisis: from austerity to denialism (pdf).

The report said that austerity, if focused elsewhere, can lessen the impact on public health.

“Experiences from other countries that have survived financial crises (eg Iceland and Finland) suggest that by ring-fencing health and social budgets, and concentrating cuts elsewhere, governments can offset the harmful effects of crises on the health of their populations.”

“Although the Greek health-care system had serious inefficiencies before the crisis, the scale and speed of imposed change have constrained the capacity of the public health system to respond to the needs of the population at a time of heightened demand. The foundations for a well functioning health-care system need structures for comprehensive accountability, effective coordination and performance management, and use of the skills of health-care professionals and academics – not denialism. The people of Greece deserve better,” the report concludes.

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