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Greek austerity violated right to health, says watchdog

  • Greek unemployment is at 19.1 percent - higher than any other EU member state. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Years of EU-led austerity in Greece continue to ravage a population that struggles with crippling poverty and access to basic health care and education, according to a new report from the Council of Europe (CoE).

Dunja Mijatovic, the CoE's commissioner for human rights, told EUobserver that Greeks are still suffering from the aftermath of international bailouts and imposed economic structural reforms.

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"It is very difficult to say now that 'everything is fine' - people are still suffering," she said on Monday (5 November).

Her comments follow the publication of her 30-page report on the impact of austerity measures in Greece, which says the fallout has violated people's right to health, enshrined in the European Social Charter, and eroded the quality of schools.

It also follows statements from the European Commission in August that declared Greece a 'normal' member of the single currency after exiting an eight-year bailout programme.

But Mijatovic, who toured Greece over the summer, says she was struck at the large cuts in areas like maternal and child health services.

"The consequences are grave," she said, noting that the closures have had a visible impact on the population.

Her report notes maternal and child health services were cut by 73 percent between 2009 and 2012. The government had also reduced state funding for mental health services by a fifth over 2010–11, and by more than half over 2011–12.

"The Greek health care staff had their salary reduced twice in 2010; funding of public hospitals, treatment services, diagnostics, disease prevention, all these programmes were cut by 20 percent," Mijatovic noted.

Suicides increased by 40 percent between 2010 and 2015. Poor sanitation in hospitals - given the lack of cleaning products - resulted in some 3,000 patients dying from nosocomial infections.

The increase in poverty also means more people are unable to afford health care, with Greece now lagging behind nearly all EU countries in health insurance coverage.

Mijatovic describes a Greek law on primary health care passed last year as "just a drop" in terms of what needs to be done to return Greece to normality.

"You have political statements saying everything is fine, but I am certain they are also aware of the fact that much more needs to be done," she said.

Greece received some €288.7bn in three bailouts, in return for imposing a wide range of cuts across social services aimed at helping people in need.

Some one-third of the population live in extreme poverty. The number of homeless increased four-fold.

The third bailout in 2015 demanded severe cuts, forcing the Greek parliament to pass seven austerity packages. Pensions were sliced, new taxes hikes imposed, amid other measures.

Greek unemployment has since dropped to just over 19 percent, but remains the highest throughout the EU - followed by Spain at 14.9 percent and Italy at 10.1.

A young Greek person in Greece is also the most unlikely in the EU to find a job given the 37.9 percent youth unemployment rate. Youth unemployment in Spain is at 34.3 percent, followed by Italy at 31.6 percent.

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