Poverty affects health in Greece
The best hospitals and medical centers were always public. I remember as a child that there were two big hospitals for children in Athens that were and still remain at a very high quality standard. 20 years ago they were actually no private children hospitals and clinics around the country simply because they would not be able to offer the services offered by the public hospitals and compete with them. After all public hospitals were free and since they offered such good services, healthcare was a sector that long remained under the control of the state.
More or less the same applied not only to children hospitals but all kinds of health institutions. There were of course always problems in the operation of the public health model, including long waiting lists for medical tests and not enough beds, but still private initiatives in healthcare took some time to be established and be made profitable. Even wealthier patients would see the private medical sector with skepticism at first, but things gradually changed as the funding of public healthcare started to decrease and things got worse and worse with time.
Recession brings changes
It would be unfair from my part to say that the decline of public healthcare in Greece and the ascent of private healthcare was something for which we can put the blame entirely on the economic crisis that the country is facing. It was actually a slow process that started about 30 years ago and was more or less completed during the last few years of the recession, or you could say that it’s still in progress.
The thing is that private healthcare improved tremendously during those years and more people started using it, as long as they had of course the money to afford it. It’s still getting better and better during this hard period for the Greek economy although growth rates have been significantly reduced.
On the other hand, public healthcare has changed a lot, that is to a negative extent. Austerity measures in Greece have force the Greek government not to hire new doctors and medical staff, so medical centers and hospitals are seriously lacking personnel, and the most important thing is that in many cases now they even lack the most essential material and resources. This situation has undermined the quality of medical services offered, has created larger waiting list for tests and operations and the risk of medical errors.
At the same time most Greek patients remain “hostages” of this situation. Since their income has decreased significantly, most cannot afford the services of private medical institutions, therefore poorer people have also poorer health compared to wealthier people.
According to a more recent survey, chronic diseases in Greece affect 24.8% of people stating that they are poor versus 16.2% of those who consider themselves “non-poor”. Poorer people, not only do not make use of preventive health services but resort to hospitals when their condition is already impaired. So this has increased the number of days the actually need to stay in hospital and death rates in hospitals.
Diseases that were almost extinct start to appear again whereas there is also an increase in the appearance of various other infections. At the same time, the risk factors for developing chronic diseases need special attention, at a time, in which these phenomena are getting worse because of the high pressure on the health structures of the country from the ever growing migration flow.
Greece was in the second place in the European Union in 1991 regarding life expectancy, but fell 11th in 2004. A recent survey indicated that the main causes of death in the Greek population, in descending order, are diseases of the circulatory system, cancer, weight loss surgery, diseases of the respiratory system and external causes like injuries and poisonings. In 2004, 48% of deaths in Greece were due to circulatory diseases and cancers were responsible for 25% of deaths, with other reasons to follow with significantly lower rates.
I haven’t found any new data but it’s certain that over the last decade Greece will be much lower in the European Union when life expectancy is concerned, but the cause of deaths could have probably remained about the same.
The cost of healthcare in Greece
Regarding the cost, this has been raised in the last few decades significantly. The change is more apparent in poorer and middle families like mine. In the past almost all medications and medical tests were offered by the state for free or you simply had to pay a small amount of money for really expensive tests and drugs. This is not the case anymore. A large part of the cost of prescribed medicine is still covered by the state, but some drugs are really expensive.
My family may still have the capability to afford them, but there are many people who don’t. And we are not talking about a luxury here, we are talking about really necessary medications that certain people cannot do without. But even middle class families with an income often experience problems. Our neighbors were unfortunate to have a member of their families with a serious chronic diseases and breast cancer, as well as the medications needed were really very expensive.
First they gave all their saving the buy the needed drugs and then, since banks do not lend money in Greece anymore, the started borrowing money from relatives and even friends and neighbors to but the medications.
This is something they do on a weekly basis without being sure if they will still be able to continue doing it in the near future, if their beloved one will become well and if they will be able to repay all that money they have borrowed or not. Below are a few stories about poverty and various healthcare information in Greece.