Within a fridge in a clinic in Perama, Greece, medicines are stocked right next to the feta cheese.
Food collection and distribution never formed part of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) projects, but more and more people have been asking their medical doctors for food along with medication. Doctors at Medecins du Monde have even been documenting people having to choose between insulin and food.
In 2012, Medecins du Monde ran 312 programmes in 79 countries, including over 160 health programmes across Europe. During that time what they witnessed was a staggering picture of a social health care ecosystem struggling to hold its head above water — an inevitable crisis signposted by soaring unemployment rates, people losing their homes due to insolvency, and large-scale migrations.
In recent years, increasing numbers of European citizens are being pushed to the edges and towards economic migration, both within Europe and beyond. The financial crisis has generated austerity measures that have had a deep impact on all social welfare and safety nets, including healthcare provision. And nowhere in Europe is that more apparent than in Greece.
Since the beginning of the financial crisis, Medecins du Monde has multiplied its areas of action and set up two new health centres in Perama and Patras. In Athens, homelessness is a new phenomenon — a direct result of the crisis. Their mobile units help out where they can with sleeping bags and food.
Today, Greece could almost be described as a third world country, with increasing numbers of people excluded from its healthcare system. Medecins du Monde reports that brutal attacks and hate crimes against ethnic minorities have become a daily phenomenon in Greece — the seriousness of the problem getting worse in the wake of Greece’s financial crisis — and exploited politically by xenophobic extreme right-wing groups. Hate groups that are getting away with it.
In the first nine months of 2012, 87 incidents of racist violence against refugees and migrants were documented — not by state or government officials but by a broad civil society coalition. The Human Rights Watch report, Hate on the streets: xenophobic violence in Greece, documents failure of the state — both police and justice systems — to prevent and punish the rising numbers of attacks on migrants.
Last year marked the country’s sixth consecutive year of economic contraction. In an economic climate where 2% growth is seen as anaemic, economic contraction has meant that Greece has sacrificed all in the name of austerity. In 2012, in an effort to achieve speciﬁc targets, the Greek Government surpassed their bailor’s requirement for cuts in hospital operating costs and pharmaceutical spending. Across Europe, Greece’s public spending for health is one of the lowest — with less than any of the other European Union members. The consequences are far reaching.
The other side of the coin — amidst an impending health crisis, two bailouts, turmoil, tripling unemployment — has been a deep and cutting austerity measure that has flung Greece back several decades. HIV infections among injecting drug users rose from 15 in 2009 to 484 in 2012. TB infections had also gone up. Greece had not recorded a case of malaria since 1974, in 2012 around 70 cases were reported. There was a 19% increase in the number of low birth weight babies, 21% rise in stillbirths between 2008 and 2011, which is attributed to reduced access to prenatal health services for pregnant women.
The result, apart from four health ministers in little over a year, is an unmet medical need — one that Medecins du Monde is currently struggling against — and one with no answer. Even as the financial crisis passes, it is unlikely to provide a respite. As most understand that the public-health system was broken long before the crisis by years by mismanagement and corruption.
Image — source.