This is your country on austerity

Researcher: Harmful impact of austerity on health in Greece 'much worse than we imagined'

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Greeks protest government's austerity measures in May 2011.

Image credit: Flickr/CHRISTINA KEKKA


There's a fierce, ongoing debate in the United States over debt and government spending. One side believes the only way to right the economy is to invest as a means to create jobs and bolster consumer demand, while the other side favors huge cuts in the federal budget, particularly entitlement programs.

Which path is better for Americans? Well, if anyone's looking for empirical evidence, there's a new study of the effects of austerity in Greece, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

In a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, a team of researchers from Aristotle University in Greece and the University of New Mexico concludes that the severe austerity measures imposed on Greece in 2010 as part of a debt-bailout deal with other Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund has had a disastrous impact on public health.

From the paper's abstract:

The global economic crisis has affected the Greek economy with unprecedented severity, making Greece an important test of the relationship between socioeconomic determinants and a population’s well-being.

Suicide and homicide mortality rates among men increased by 22.7% and 27.6%, respectively, between 2007 and 2009, and mental disorders, substance abuse, and infectious disease morbidity showed deteriorating trends during 2010 and 2011. Utilization of public inpatient and primary care services rose by 6.2% and 21.9%, respectively, between 2010 and 2011, while the Ministry of Health’s total expenditures fell by 23.7% between 2009 and 2011.

Regarding the suicide and mortality rates, those were measured during a period that predated the austerity measures, but not the brutal recession that was in full swing by 2009. If a bad economy -- defined here as high unemployment and falling income -- exacerbates suicides and murders, it's not a stretch to assume more unemployment and even lower income might add fuel to that particular fire.

Dr. Elias Kondilis, lead author of the study and a researcher at Aristotle University, said, "We were expecting that these austerity policies would negatively affect health services and health outcomes, but the results were much worse than we imagined."

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