What have been the effects of Greece’s financial crisis on the health of its people?

Six academics analyzing studies and publicly available data say there have been some worrying trends.

“Overall, the picture of health in Greece is concerning,” wrote six researchers in a letter published in the October 10 Edition of The Lancet.

The academics included Alexander Kentikelenis and David Struckler of Cambridge University and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“It reminds us that, in an effort to finance debts, ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventive services, facing higher risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the worst cases losing their lives,” they wrote.

The researchers include four London based researchers and one from the United States.

They urged “greater attention to health and health-care access” so that the crisis “does not undermine the ultimate source of the country’s wealth-its people.”

Greece’s unemployment rate has risen from 6.6 percent in May 2008 to 16.6 percent in May 2011. Meanwhile, the country’s deb rose between 2007 and 2010 from 105.4 percent to 142.8 percent of gross domestic product – 239.4 billion euros to 328.6 billion euros.

The Greek government has sought to borrow its way out of the crisis with the promise of sharply curtailing government spending.

The authors analyzed representative samples of 12,346 and 15,045 respondents in 2007 and 2009. The authros also looked at reports from medical research institutes, health prefectures and non-governmental organizations(NGOs).

The data included epidemiological indicators, data on hospital admissions and reports on mental health problems and the status of vulnerable groups.

The analysis found that there was a significant rise in people reporting they did not go to a doctor or dentist despite feeling that it was necessary. The main reasons for not seeing care were not seemingly linked to an ability to afford care, but rather to long waiting times, travel distance to care or waiting to feel better, as well as other reasons not capture in the survey.

Greece’s health care system entitles citizens and those with social insurance to visit general practitioners free of charge and to attend outpatient clinics for hospitals, the authors said.

“These noted reductions in access probably reflect supply-side problems: there were about 40 percent cuts in hospital budgets, understaffing, reported occasional shortages of medical supplies, and bribes given to medical staff to jump queues in overstretched hospitals,” the authors wrote.

Meanwhile Admissions to public hospitals rose 24 percent in 2010 compared with 2009, and 8 percent in the first half of 2011 compared with the same period of 2010.

Admissions to private hospitals fell by 25 to 30 percent.

The letter also noted increases in suicide of at least 17 percent in 2009 from 2007and expected increases in HIV infections, by 52 percent in 2011 compared with 2010 (922 new cases versus 605.)

Positive health effects have included “marked reductions” in alcohol consumption, according to police data, as well as drunken driving. Those factors were not linked to budget cuts in the police force since police checks remained the same, the authors said.