[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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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