Study: Disease spreading due to eurozone crisis | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.04.2013
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Study: Disease spreading due to eurozone crisis

The financial crisis is not only being reflected in many Europeans' wallets, their health is suffering too. A British study has sounded alarm by claiming responses to the financial crisis are helping diseases to spread.

Malaria, dengue fever and tuberculosis are diseases long thought eradicated from Europe. But a study by British health experts claims that since the beginning of the financial crisis, these and other illnesses are re-emerging due to dwindling healthcare budgets. The number of deaths is also on the rise.

'Looking upstream'

"Within the measures that were imposed by the troika [of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund], there were requirements to cut back on some of the clinics treating infectious disease," said Martin McKee, an author of the recently published study published in "The Lancet" medical journal. The mentally unstable are also affected, added the health expert. The number of suicides has increased enormously in crisis-stricken countries since Europe's debt problems came into focus in 2008 and 2009.

Greece has been affected, but Spain has also seen an increase in cases of people with depression.

Ambassador of Hungary to the OECD Istvan Mikola Martin McKee +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++***

More money is needed for healthcare, says McKee

"For 200 years, ever since the famous German pathologist and public health activist Rudolf Virchow, we've been taught to look upstream to the causes of the causes," said McKee. And the cause, McKee adds, is a direct result of the financial crisis.

Difficulty coping

Willem de Jonge from Doctors without Borders in Greece isn't surprised by the study's results. In an interview with DW, he discussed what he has observed from working in Greece.

"The capacity of the hospitals and of the public health system to cope with the need is drastically reduced," he said. "People have less access. There are fewer doctors, fewer surgeons - all of the things you would normally find in a functioning health care system."

Funding for health care has been cut by up to 40 percent in Greece since the beginning of the crisis - with fatal consequences, said de Jonge: "In Athens, we saw a 1500-percent increase in HIV cases in 2011 compared to 2010. That is due to the fact that the Ministry of Health reduced its budget to distribute clean needles."

Patients waiting for treatment in a clinic in Athens (c) Maria Rigoutsou

Much of Greece's health sector has suffered funding cuts

Even diseases that were thought to have been wiped out in Europe, such as malaria, are making a comeback. In 2011, Greece recorded its first locally transmitted malaria infection since the 1950s. De Jonge puts the blame on politicians.

"The fact that there were a lot of these mosquitoes is due to the fact that the budget from the government to spray the fields and to control the mosquito population had been cut - effectively, completely stopped in 2011. So that allowed the mosquito population to grow to new sizes," the doctor explained.

Banks saved, but not hospitals

Martin McKee points a finger at European institutions, saying the European Central Bank's actions have been particularly questionable. "We do contrast the willingness of the governments and of the European Central Bank to bail out the banks, but not to protect health care for ordinary people."

McKee acknowledges that European institutions have criticized the study he co-authored. And while it's true that a patient's ailment cannot be traced back to the crisis, he says, the many cases taken together offer a clear picture of the web of causes and effects.

Doctors without Borders logo in French (c) picture-alliance/rtn - radio tele nord

Doctors without Borders says it wants to support Greece's recovery

Willem de Jonge wants to take practical steps to address the problems, and with the help of Doctors without Borders, lend support to the Greek government.

"We're trying to support the government in areas that we know we have the relevant added value - things like malaria and tuberculosis, of course, are things that we know from other countries," de Jonge said. The organization is also aiding the Department of Immigration in performing medical exams on immigrants.

De Jonge is convinced the solution to Greece's health crisis will only come when its financial problems are solved. But he is optimistic: "I do have absolute confidence that in five years from now, Greece will have recovered, and should be able to stand on its own two feet again."

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