Greek Debt Crisis: ‘Of All the Damage, Healthcare Has Been Hit the Worst’

Friday, July 10, 2015

Above a dark, tatty arcade of wholesale button traders and empty shop fronts in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, one mother was rocking a sick baby and another was carrying a toddler as they waited to see a volunteer paediatrician in the brightly painted clinic run by the Greek branch of the NGO Doctors of the World.

“We’re already facing a humanitarian crisis in Greece,” said Sofia Garane who runs the clinic. “Of all the damage done during the last five years, healthcare has been hit the worst.”

The Greek healthcare system is in meltdown after years of austerity. State-run hospitals have had to slash budgets but as much as 50% in that time. Basic supplies such as gloves, syringes, gauze, cotton wool, catheters and paper towels have long been in low supply. The numbers of doctors and nurses is critically low.

Rising poverty and rocketing unemployment has left 2.5 million Greeks – a quarter of the population – without national state healthcare coverage (Health benefits are only available for up to a year after losing a job, after which patients must pay for their own treatment). Screening for diseases such as uterus, breast and prostate cancers have been reduced, and with struggling patients unable to seek out primary care, patients are arriving for treatment at late stages when serious conditions have already taken hold.

The local doctors, ranging from urologists and cardiologists to paediatric surgeons, take turns to work for free at the Thessaloniki clinic that is on the frontline of in the medical solidarity movement which is keeping healthcare afloat. Five years ago, most of the patients at this clinic were refugees or other foreign nationals with no access to healthcare. Now, the 1,500 patients who come each month are largely Greeks, many of whom once ran businesses or shops in the city but who are now unemployed and with no healthcare access. Over the past three years, the number of patients arriving to see the clinic’s volunteer psychologist and psychiatrist has doubled.

In the two weeks since Greek banks were frozen and cashpoint withdrawals limited to €60 a day with pensions limited to €120 a week, Garane said more and more people who should have state health coverage had come to the clinic for help.

Source: The Guardian (link opens in a new window)

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