News / Health

Austerity Seriously Affecting Health in Europe, North America

Medical staff take part in a protest rally against austerity measures in Athens, Greece, April 17, 2013.
Medical staff take part in a protest rally against austerity measures in Athens, Greece, April 17, 2013.
Michael Scaturro
Austerity is having a serious effect on health in both Europe and North America - that's according to a team of researchers at U.S. and European universities. Rates of suicide, depression and infectious diseases are up, and even malaria, eradicated from most Western countries decades ago, has staged a comeback in Greece.  

Experts from leading U.S. and European universities compiled data for the World Health Organization's annual report on "health policy responses to the financial crises in Europe and the U.S." The report won't be released until September, but the researchers, alarmed at how much budget cuts have affected Greece, have begun speaking out.

"Greece is an example of perhaps the worst case of austerity leading to public health disasters," said David Stuckler of Oxford University, one of the study's authors. He said International Monetary Fund and European Union austerity measures imposed on the Greeks are having a devastating impact on their health.

"After mosquito spraying programs were cut, we've seen a return of malaria, which the country has kept under control for the past four decades.  New HIV infections have jumped more than 200 percent," he said.

Stuckler said increasing intravenous drug use among the young, and a lack of funds for clean needle exchange programs, are responsible for the spike in new HIV infections.

While southern Europe is dealing with shortages of medicine and healthcare services, northern European countries like Germany say they have more health care than they need.

"We are discussing whether we have too many beds, too many hospitals, too many procedures," said Klaus-Dirk Henke of Berlin's Technical University, one of the project's researchers. He said that countries in northern Europe, like France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, have actually seen their health care systems improve during the economic crisis, due to targeted increases in health care spending. He's calling on EU politicians to address the widening health care gap between the north and south of Europe.

"Northern countries in the European Union should help more and subsidize the southern countries, and this is what we are doing, at least in regard to the euro crisis," said Henke. "The credits that go now to the south - this is money to support them and help them to get a fair economic situation again. The unemployment rate in Spain is about 50 percent for young people - this is incredible, we have to do something about it."

But it's not just Europeans who are experiencing more negative health care outcomes in this crisis. The U.S. is, too.

David Stuckler said, "I should point out that on the sequester: cuts to the women and children's health program, which provides food to pregnant women, and has been shown to prevent infant mortality - this is one of the programs facing significant cuts. Another is the Centers for Disease Control, which was a great protector during meningitis outbreaks, and outbreaks of West Nile Virus, which has been seen in California, and most recently in Dallas, Texas."

Stuckler said over five million Americans lost their health insurance during the "Great Recession," adding to an already large pool of uninsured.  

He says Iceland's reaction to its own massive bank collapses and economic troubles could serve as an example. That country's politicians put austerity to a vote.

"Ninety-three percent of the Icelandic people voted against steep budget cuts to finance bank bailouts," Stuckler said. "The economy recovered, and by investing to increase health spending in a time of crisis, as well as providing support to the unemployed and to people who lost homes, we in fact saw health improve."

Stuckler and his co-authors are calling for stimulus spending to be directed towards health care programs. They say money used this way is rapidly absorbed by overstretched systems and quickly provides jobs and valuable services.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs