"A Matter Of Life And Death": The Collapsing Greek Health-Care System Is In Critical Condition

Tyler Durden's picture

While by now virtually everyone around the world is intimately familiar with the nuances of Greek electoral law, knows the names of Greek politicians better than of those at home, and is all too aware of the broader media propaganda that unless Greece does as the banks demand the world as we know it will end, one aspect of the Greek collapse into hell has gotten lost: the complete failure of the Greek healthcare system. As the following Reuters report shows, regardless of the outcome on Sunday, it just may be too late to preserve the future of Greek sickcare, and with that, of the entire population: "The country's state hospitals are cutting off vital drugs, limiting non-urgent operations and rationing even basic medical materials for exhausted doctors as a combination of economic crisis and political stalemate strangle health funding. "It's a matter of life and death for us," said Persefoni Mitta, head of the cancer patients' association, recounting the dozens of calls she gets a day from patients needing pricey, hard-to-find cancer drugs. "Why are they depriving us of life?"" They are depriving of you of life, Persefoni, because in old times, when a given country was enslaved, there was a specific aggressor that the people could revolt against. Now, when the slave-master is debt, and thus one's own desire to live beyond their means, it is far more difficult to look in the mirror and to revolt against what one sees. Which is why, one day at a time, the Greek civilization will continue to suffer the terminal consequences of infinite debt serfdom, until finally, after two thousand years, it no longer exists.

The sad tale continues:

The emergency has grown out of a tangle of unpaid bills, with pharmacists and doctors complaining of being unable to pay suppliers until competing health insurers clear a growing backlog of unfilled state payments.

 

Greece imports nearly all its medicines and relies heavily on patented rather than cheaper generic drugs, making it vulnerable to a funding squeeze that would grow sharply worse if it were forced out of the euro after elections on Sunday.

 

Long queues have been forming outside a handful of pharmacies that still provide medication on credit - the rest are demanding cash upfront until the government pays up a subsidy backlog of 762 million euros, or nearly $1 billion.

 

"We're not talking about painkillers here - we've learned to live with physical pain - we need drugs to keep us alive," Mitta, a petite former marathon runner and herself a cancer survivor, said in a voice shaky with emotion.

 

Greeks have long had to give medical staff cash "gifts" to ensure good treatment. Nevertheless the health system was considered "relatively efficient" before the crisis despite a variety of problems including a fragmented organisation and excess bureaucracy, according to a 2009 report for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

But it has been unable to respond to the growing crisis. The European Union and International Monetary Fund, which provided a 130 billion euro lifeline to Greece in March, have demanded big cuts to the system as part of a wider package of austerity measures.

 

But powerful medical lobbies and unions have resisted fiercely. Caretaker Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos, in office until a new government is formed after the elections, has pleaded for a solution but been powerless to force a change.

 

"It is imperative that this matter is resolved immediately in order to prevent putting people's lives at risk," Pikrammenos said last week.

No bed sheets or paper...

Outside one of the 133 state hospitals - whose managers have sometimes been appointed as supporters of whichever political party was in power at the time - a banner put up by protesting staff reads "Hospitals Belong to the People". Inside, its gloomy labyrinth of corridors tell a different story.

 

A doctor at the university hospital in the northwestern Athens suburb of Chaidari cites a lack of basic examining room supplies in her own department, such as cotton wool, catheters, gloves and paper used to cover the examining table.

 

The shortage of paper, which is thrown out after each patient has used it, means corners have to be cut on hygiene.

 

"Sometimes we take a bed sheet instead and use it for several patients," said Kiki Kiale, a radiologist specialising in cancer screening. "It's tragic but there's no other solution."

 

Kiale, 52, said staff cutbacks and a lack of crucial equipment - including a digital mammography machine - meant some doctors were seeing 40 patients during a shift but many patients were still unable to get treatment.

 

In the chaos, patients can slip through the cracks or turn up for treatment again only when their illness has progressed too far for them to be saved.

And it just goes on and on...

Because every excess debt-induced binge always has tragic price, no matter what three letter economic schools of voodoo though lead one to believe otherwise.