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Are There Health Effects Due to the Financial Crisis?

What ails the Greeks can't be treated by doctors.

by
Theodore Dalrymple

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December 16, 2011 - 12:00 am
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In general, health and money go together, and there is no population known to me in which the poorer are healthier than the rich.

A short article in The Lancet titled “Health Effects of Financial Crisis: Omens of a Greek Tragedy” deals with the health consequences of the implosion of the Greek economy. Of course, many of the article’s statistics come from Greek official sources, whose dishonest manipulations were, in part, responsible for causing the economic crisis in the first place; but the authors of the article themselves were from such institutions as the University of Cambridge, the London School of Tropical Medicine, the London School of Economics, and the University of California at San Francisco.

It appears that fewer Greeks are now consulting doctors even when they feel that they need to do so. The article says:

Since Greece’s universal health-care system entitles citizens and those with social insurance to visit general practitioners free of charge, these noted reductions in access probably reflect supply-side problems… there were… occasional shortages of medical supplies, and bribes given to medical staff to jump queues in overstretched hospitals.

However, bribery of Greek doctors to provide the services they are paid by the state to provide is nothing new; it existed well before the crisis, whose main effect has been to make the bribes more difficult for patients to pay.

Be that as it may, admissions to public hospitals in 2010 compared with 2009 increased by 24 percent while those to private hospitals declined by 25-30 percent. Absolute figures were not give in the article, so it is impossible to say from this whether more or fewer people ended up in hospital. But in any case, less access to health care is not the same thing as declining health.

In order to prove that “health outcomes have worsened” the authors did not take the infant mortality rate or the overall life expectancy, but rather the suicide rate (up 17 percent between 2007 and 2009). The authors say that “the inability to repay high levels of personal debt might be a key factor in the increase in suicides”; but only by a very highly, almost totalitarian, definition of health could such an inability to repay be deemed a medical condition which it is the province of doctors to treat.

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