As the financial crisis in Greece worsens, more and more sectors of the Greek economy are taking hits, including the health care system. Greece has a socialized health care system and now that the government is running out of money, so are hospitals.
Just four years ago, Greece spent nearly $20 billion on health care. Now, the government spends only a fraction of that. 140 state-owned hospitals have seen a 94 percent cut this year alone.
In the five years since the initial financial crisis in Greece, the average life expectancy of those living in the country dropped by three years—an unprecedented fall.
Hospitals are running out of all kinds of supplies—from simple necessities like bedding and hospital gowns, to essentials like syringes and life-saving drugs. The government has even resorted to laying off medical staff.
Greece’s debt problems stem from three major factors.
First, the average Greek worker is less productive than his or her counterparts in other European countries. Even though Greeks work longer hours than others in Europe, their work results in a smaller gross domestic product growth than other countries. Second, tax evasion is a widespread problem, which makes it difficult for the government to collect sufficient revenue. Third, Greece’s network of social programs is incredibly expensive—the government spent up to 24 percent of the country’s GDP on social expenditures in 2014 alone.
Syriza, the ruling party in Greece, came to power in a snap election earlier in 2015. They campaigned on a 40-point platform promising not to make cuts to Greece’s extensive social programs. Syriza promised to extend that network and spend even more on certain programs.
Despite those promises, however, Syriza has had to reprioritize spending, shifting funding from certain sector to pay the salaries of government workers and to help fund the debt, at least in part.
However, those efforts have proved to be not good enough. Last week, Greece failed to meet a deadline to repay a portion of its debt to the International Monetary Fund. As a result, bailout funds the nation was surviving on were cut off until Greece can get its finances in order.
On Sunday, the Greek people voted against a proposed plan which would implement austerity measures in an effort to win back the support of European leaders, sending international markets into a nosedive.
It is unclear how, if at all, the Greek medical system will recover from these blows, as the Greek government has failed to present any reform proposals to the EU at press time.
Some medical workers, however, are not waiting on a government solution. Medical workers are establishing what they call “solidarity clinics” to provide health care at no cost to ailing patients.
The solidarity clinics put Greek citizens in contact with medical professionals who are volunteering in order to fill the gaps in the system left by the shuffling of funds.
Other groups, inspired by the citizen-centered action of those running the clinics, have set up places for citizens to find legal aid and even food.
Some, however, worry that these clinics will do no good for the Greek people.
“Health is a very serious matter. It is not to be left in the hands of volunteers,” Maria Spiliotopoulou, a history researcher who volunteers with a Greek hospital, said. “We pay taxes. The welfare state should provide for us.”