The number of live births has fallen by a whopping 10 percent in Greece in the last four years as the country suffers the worst economic conditions in the entire European Union, and continues to exercise austerity in order to receive loans from the likes of the European Bank and the IMF.

Because of these measures, Greece’s health care budget has been slashed by nearly 40 percent, resulting in fewer people having access to medical treatment. One of the results of these cuts has been a decline in births and a rise in stillbirths. As mothers, many unemployed, fear the costs of screenings and prenatal tests, the number of stillborn babies has risen from 3.3 to 4 out of every 1,000 births in the past four years. This is largely due to the fact that pregnant women are no longer offered benefits or government assistance in any form. And perhaps more alarmingly, mothers who can’t afford to pay delivery costs often run away from hospitals with their unregistered child to avoid fees.

The Guardian offers more information on how austerity is not only destroying lives in Greece, but also impeding the creation of new ones:

If further evidence was ever needed of the human cost of austerity, it is the effect budget-reducing policies are clearly having on childbirth in Greece. Figures released by the state-run Institute of Child Health show that the birthrate dropped from 118,302 in 2008 to 100,980 in 2012.

The health minister, Adonis Georgiadis, has attributed the decline squarely to the effect of the economic crisis on Greeks. “The problem of low fertility among the Greek population has grown continuously over the past two decades and worsened significantly, recently, as a result of the profound economic crisis the country is facing,” he said, acknowledging that the number of stillbirths had also risen.

Mired in its sixth straight year of recession – the longest on record for an advanced western economy – Greece is in the midst of a public health disaster that according to doctors is worsening by the day.

…State funds for medication have been axed by almost half, from €5bn euro to just over €2bn, since the turmoil began.

Soaring joblessness – at nearly 28%, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone – has also meant that growing numbers are no longer covered by free healthcare. The migration of thousands of private insurance holders to state-sponsored schemes has added to the strain.

“This is by far our biggest problem, the long-term unemployed no longer having access to health services because they are uninsured,” said [Christina Papanikolaou, general secretary at the health ministry and] a physician herself. “We have had to make cuts in a very short period of time and some have been unfair…”

In a four-page analysis submitted to parliament, Adonis Georgiadis, the health minister, conceded that steps needed to be taken to ensure that the uninsured and financially vulnerable could be covered by insurance funds in prenatal screening.

Meanwhile, is there anyone left who can make a case for austerity as the best means to achieve an economic recovery?

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi


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