[Ip-health] No money - no delivery of meds in Greece... Roche...

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Thu Oct 6 08:29:00 PDT 2011

New poor seek humanitarian aid
6 October 2011

Hardest hit by the draconian budget cuts imposed by the debt crisis, the 
most disadvantaged Greeks are seeking health care from humanitarian 
NGOs. Interviewed by news web site EUobserver, Apostolos Veizis, head of 
Médecins Sans Frontières in Greece, says that a growing number of Greek 
citizens are knocking on the doors of its health centres. Implanted in 
the country since 1995, these are designed to care for immigrants and 
refugees sheltered in temporary retention centres, who do not have 
access to the national health care system.

"With the aggravation of the economic crisis, we are faced with the 
symptoms of a more serious problem," says Veizis in the interview. 
"Today, retirees, the unemployed, the homeless, those infected with HIV 
or tuberculosis are also deprived of coverage," he adds. "We've noted 
that the budgets of certain types of care, including public aid and the 
treatment of certain types of diseases are slashed by cuts of up to 
80%," Veizis says, denouncing the acute shortages of medical supplies, 
of medicine and of blood supplies. In addition, adds EUobserver, *major 
pharmaceutical firms are refusing to deliver to certain hospitals for 
fear of not being paid.*


  Ordinary Greeks turning to NGOs as health system hit by austerity

Today @ 09:28


 1. Austerity cuts not to blame for Greek drug shortage, EU says
 2. Eurozone chiefs: Greece can wait till November

By Leigh Phillips <http://euobserver.com/search/author/226>

Europeans and Westerners in general are accustomed to being asked to 
donate money to emergency aid NGOs to tackle medical humanitarian crises 
in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world where 
governments are too unwilling, poor or incapable to be able to help 
their own citizens.

It is unheard of for aid groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres or 
Medicins du Monde to have to take over the role of providing basic 
medical services from normal state or private providers in a Western 

But in the era of ever-tightening EU-IMF austerity, that is what is 
happening in Greece now, as the unemployed and HIV patients begin to 
turn up at temporary clinics that had been intended to come to the aid 
of migrants and refugees.

According to Apostolos Veizis, the head of MSF Greece, this is the new 
reality that the country is waking up to.

"Wherever we work, we are working not only to respond to emergencies, 
but also to potential unwillingness on the part of authorities to 
provide access to healthcare," he explained to EUobserver.

The organisation had set up clinics as long ago as 1995 specifically to 
deal with migrants and refugees that the government had abandoned to 
detention centres whose living conditions were criticised by the EU's 
Fundamental Rights Agency in March. These migrants are completely 
excluded from Greek healthcare provision, according to Veizis, and so 
groups like MSF moved in to fill the gap.

But as the crisis has deteriorated and Brussels, Washington and 
Frankfurt have demanded stringent austerity that is bleeding public 
healthcare of vital resources, ordinary Greek citizens have started 
turning up at the doors of these clinics that were never intended for them.

"With the growth of the economic crisis, we are seeing symptoms of a 
wider problem," Veizis says. "Now pensioners, the unemployed, the 
homeless, HIV and TB patients are also going without healthcare."

Even middle-class shopkeepers are falling through the cracks, unable to 
win the exemptions that can be provided to those who can prove they are 
out of a job, he says.

"Normally from the data sent to the [World Health Organisation], we 
basically have an idea of where we need to go. But in this case, from 
the data supplied to the WHO or by Eurostat, you would imagine that 
there is no need in Greece for MSF to intervene."

"But looking around at what our own families are going through, what 
colleagues working in hospitals are reporting, as well as other 
organisations, ... we see that regular Greek citizens are being cut off 
from healthcare, that people running clinics are receiving such citizens."

"We are seeing the budgets of some health service areas such as social 
support and the treatment of certain diseases being hit by cuts of up to 
80 percent," he continues.

*As a result of the government's inability to pay the debts it owes to 
pharmaceuticals, the drugs giants are refusing to ship medicines to 
certain hospitals. Swiss firm Roche said in September that it would no 
longer deliver drugs to indebted hospitals, but it goes beyond just 
pills and ointments.*

"We are facing shortages of medical materials, drugs and blood," Veizis 

He locates three causes of the crisis in the healthcare system: that 
there was already a poor state of an underfunded healthcare system 
itself long before austerity hit, "then there is the considerable 
financial restrictions the government wants to make, and finally the 
restructuring that is being imposed."

The government is slashing the number of hospitals from 133 down to 83, 
cutting the number of clinical units from 2000 down to 1700, limiting to 
30,000 the number of functional beds - or 80 percent of estimated needs.

The budgets of some health service areas such as social support and the 
treatment of certain diseases being hit by cuts of up to 80 percent.

All of which "is being imposed by the government without any impact 
assessment of what will happen."

People must also now pay EUR5 for every visit to the hospital. The sum 
may not seem much, but when so many now have three-figure monthly 
incomes, every little bit is an anguish to part with "Then they have to 
pay for their lab exams," Veizis adds.

There are categories of people who are exempt from the fees, but in 
reality there are many people that do not fit into these and so are 
excluded from health services.

People who run small businesses for example may not count as unemployed 
even if they have had to shut their shop, if they do not have the proper 
paperwork saying that they were paying their insurance fees but are now 
unemployed. They also not meet government criteria for unemployed status 
if they own their own house or car.

Pensioners are insured, but they also have to make a contribution from 
their side to the purchase of medicines - as much as 20-25 percent of 
the cost. But if their earnings have dropped from EUR700 a month to 
EUR500 a month, their capacity to pay for their medicines is all but 

There are also some 50-60,000 HIV patients that are without insurance.

MSF Greece is currently performing an assessment of the situation in 
Athens to get to grips with the full extent of what is happening. Veizis 
says there is a need for a more in-depth analysis that goes beyond 
anecdotes. "Traditionally with such assessments, there are figures on 
the morbidity and mortality that give us a pretty good indication about 
where to go. But there is no hard quantitative or qualitative data on 
this yet."

The group began its assessment in July, but the MSF director admits that 
he is uncomfortable about what the correct response should be, whether 
aid groups should even be providing such services if they let the 
government off the hook.

"What do we do when we open a clinic to these people, to everybody [and 
not just migrants]. Are we really being helpful? If a citizen says to 
himself: 'Well, I know that there is an MSF clinic I can go to, then 
maybe I won't go through the hassle of trying to go to the public 
hospital," is that keeping up the pressure on the government to deliver 
adequate provision, to take responsibility for this, or is it letting 
them off?"

"It is also very difficult to say what the exit strategy is here," he 
concludes. He doesn't know when this situation is going to end. Are NGOs 
willing to stick it out providing healthcare where Western governments 
cannot for perhaps years to come?

    'Deepening humanitarian crisis'

The head of Medecins du Monde in the country, dentist Nikitis Kanakis, 
offers an equally grim portrait of the state of health-care in 
austerity-ruled Greece.

"The situation in the last year has taken a turn for the worse," he 
says. Of the 30,000 patients the group has attended to in the last year, 
some 35 percent are Greek citizens, up from 10 percent in 2010. Some 
nine percent of this figure are children.

"There has been a tremendous change for the worse in a very short period 
of time."

He says people come to MDM clinics with prescriptions for which they 
cannot pay and that some hospitals "run out from time to time of even 
basic materials."

Hunger has returned to Greece, he says. Visitors to their clinics are 
now not just asking for medical assistance and medicines, but food as well.

"Amongst some children and the elderly, signs of mild malnutrition have 
begun to appear. This is mostly amongst migrants, but Greek citizens as 
well. There is a problem also not just with the amount but the quality 
of the food."

As a result, the organisation in the coming weeks is to step outside its 
brief and launch a campaign for food donations.

"And we are beginning to see problems we've not encountered before, like 
families not on social security missing access to vaccinations.

He has little time for the demands of international lenders to Greece: 
"What we know is that amongst the new measures for 2012, the troika has 
asked that there no longer be exceptions to the EUR5 fee to visit a 
hospital [for those who cannot afford it]. Things will certainly get 
worse next year."

"There is a deepening humanitarian crisis in Greece, but nobody wants to 
see this."


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