Desperate measures: Greeks self-inflict HIV to get €700 benefits

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A recent World Health Organization report shows grim health implications from Europe’s economic crisis, including a trend in Greece in which citizens infect themselves with HIV to access the meager range of government benefits available.
The WHO report ‘Review of Social Determinants and the Health Divide in the WHO European Region’ concludes that the staggering levels of unemployment and mandated financial austerity have hit European citizens hard, especially those in Greece, where the jobless level stood at 27 percent in September. 
The economic crisis that began in 2008 has “exacerbated” health problems in parts of Europe, exposing “stark social and economic inequities within and between countries.” Greece is the hardest hit, with the country’s economy shrinking to the point of nearly knocking it out of the eurozone completely. 
The report published last week says the HIV rates in Greece have risen “significantly” since 2008. It estimates about half of new HIV infections are self-inflicted “to enable people to receive benefits of 700 euro per month and faster admission on to drug-substitution programs.” 
Suicides, the WHO found, increased by 17 percent in Greece from 2007 to 2009, then a further 25 percent in 2010. As economic conditions worsened in early 2011, suicide attempts went up 40 percent, according to the Minister of Health. 
The report  stresses that homicide and theft rates have doubled. Prostitution has also risen, "probably as a response to economic hardship," it adds.
The WHO says healthcare access in Greece has declined due to a 40 percent cut in hospital budgets. Approximately 26,000 health workers – including 9,100 doctors – may lose their positions. 
An EU survey included in the WHO study reported a 15 percent increase in Greece between 2007 and 2009 of those who said they would likely skip a dentist or doctor visit even though they thought it was necessary. 
“These adverse trends in Greece pose a warning to other countries undergoing significant fiscal austerity, including Spain, Ireland and Italy. It also suggests that ways need to be found for cash-strapped governments to consolidate finances without undermining much-needed investments in health,” the report stated. 
After Greece, Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone at 26 percent. Portugal is next, at 16.3 percent, according to FactSet Research. 
To maintain support from the European Central Bank, Athens has taken severe austerity measures. In May 2010, the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a 110-billion-euro bailout loan for Greece, which has come at a very heavy price for the majority of Greeks. Citizens have seen tax hikes even as their wages and pensions are cut. Six in 10 young people in Greece are currently jobless. Homelessness is also on the rise. 
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