Europe's financial crisis is costing lives, with suicides
and infectious diseases on the rise, yet politicians are not addressing the
problem, health experts said.
Deep budget cuts and growing unemployment are tipping more
people into depression, and falling incomes mean fewer people can see their
doctors or afford to buy medicines.
The result has been a reversal since 2007 of a long-term
decline in suicide rates, coupled with worrying outbreaks of diseases including
HIV - and even malaria - in Greece, according to a major analysis of European
health in The Lancet journal.
Countering these threats requires strong social protection
schemes, researchers argue. But the austerity measures imposed after a string
of crises in southern Europe - most recently in Cyprus - has shredded such
'Problem of denial'
"There is a clear problem of denial of the health
effects of the crisis, even though they are very apparent," said lead
researcher Martin McKee of the European Observatory on Health Systems and
Policies, a group backed by the World Health Organization.
"The European Commission has a treaty obligation to
look at the health effect of all of its policies but has not produced any
impact assessment on the health effects of the austerity measures imposed by
The so-called troika of the European Commission, European
Central Bank and International Monetary Fund is the group of lenders
responsible for a series of economic bail-outs. McKee said the failure of
European governments and the European Commission to face up to the health
consequences of their policies was reminiscent of the "obfuscation"
of the tobacco industry over curbs on smoking.
The case of Iceland, however, suggests there is an
alternative. Despite a devastating financial crisis, Iceland rejected
austerity, following a referendum, and instead continued to invest in its
social welfare system.
As a result, the researchers found there had been no
discernible effects on health since the crisis. Iceland's economy has now
returned to growth, but the recovery is patchy and inflation has remained
By contrast, McKee and colleagues reported that healthcare
systems were now under strain in many European countries, including Spain,
Portugal and Greece, with a series of negative consequences.
In particular, there is a growing trend for patients to seek
care at a later stage, even though this will mean worse outcomes for
individuals and higher costs for the healthcare system in the long term.
In Greece, meanwhile, hospitals are struggling to maintain
basic standards, resulting in a rise in antibiotic resistant infections, and
patients have suffered shortages of a number of medicines, including epilepsy