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11 April 2013

Austerity policies are undermining Europeans’ health

Suicides, outbreaks of HIV infections, malaria and other diseases are becoming more common. In an article published in The Lancet on 27 March, a group of experts review the early impacts of austerity measures on health in Europe.

The authors have detected a decline in the health of populations in some countries where austerity is harshest. In Greece, the troika (European Commission, IMF and ECB) has demanded that public spending on health be capped at 6% of GDP. That has translated into a 50% cut in central social security fund administrative staff, a reduction in public hospital beds from 35 000 to 33 000, and the elimination or merging of 370 specialist units.

The proportion of people who felt that they needed but did not access medical care rose significantly, the researchers found. This clearly plays into the resurgence of malaria and dengue fever outbreaks in Greece. Stopping needle exchange programmes has led to a huge rise in new cases of HIV infection among injecting drug users. There is also evidence of worsening mental health, with a 40% rise in suicides between January and May 2011.

In Portugal, winter deaths in people older than 75 years increased by 10% in 2012 compared with 2011, while Spain has seen swingeing cuts in hospital bed numbers in some parts of the country.

"What this research shows is that austerity measures have only widened the gulf in social inequalities in health that existed before the onset of the crisis. Health has become an unaffordable luxury for the most vulnerable groups", commented ETUI researcher Laurent Vogel.

Further reading: Financial crisis, austerity, and health in Europe

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