There is a fully-fledged access to health care crisis in Greece as a result of the Troika-dictated cuts over the past four years. Three million people or more, exact figures are hard to get due to “Greek statistics”, have fallen off the social safety net and have lost any access whatsoever to health care services in the country. This is easy to understand as according to Greek legislation long–term unemployed i.e. over a period of two years lose their social coverage.
Needless to say that the situation is dire as far as vulnerable social groups are concerned such as immigrants, children, the elderly, asylum seekers, roma and others. This was one of the issues highlighted at the 2nd policy-making conference organized by the TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) in Athens on 13 December 2013. TACD joined forces with the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Médecins du Monde (MdM Greece), PRAKSIS NGO, Greece’s leading consumer association TACD member EKPIZO, the Greek cancer patients’ association DEDIDIKA and MEP Nikos Chrysogelos (Greens/EFA, EL) in analyzing the latest developments in the fields of medicines and health. The shocking data presented by President of MdM Greece is indicative of the bleak situation. She emphasized that there is a 20% annual increase in the number of people using the various services of MdM Greece. Vaccines constitute the number one type of medicine that people who turn to MdM Greece ask for. In fact about 30% of children in Greece need to be vaccinated.
What was striking was the inability of the Troika’s & the government’s representatives present at the conference to come forward with concrete proposals on how to improve the situation on the ground. Moreover, it became apparent that there is disagreement between the two sides as to the budget allocated to pharmaceutical spending for 2014. The Troika insists in reducing public spending further to 2bn euro while the Greek government pushes for maintaining the budget at the same level as in 2013 i.e. 2,3 bn if not increasing it to 2.5 (5 bn in 2009). Responding to harsh criticisms, the Troika representative acknowledged that “in the ideal world, there should have been impact assessment studies for the reforms introduced”. On another front, it was clear that the government in its efforts to reduce spending is pushing hard for generics. Use of generics remains extremely low around 20%. Nevertheless, several interest groups for various reasons try to prevent this from happening mainly by instilling fear within Greek society concerning generics’ safety and quality. The author of the latest medicines’ pricing law gave a detailed presentation of the highly controversial piece of legislation which grabbed headlines for weeks as opposition parties accused the government of serving foreign pharmaceuticals’ interests and wiping Greek pharma companies off the map. The overall conclusion regarding the new law is that it promotes generics and reduces drugs’ prices further both for patent and off patent products. Civil society representatives asked the Greek authorities to consider options such as pooled procurement at the EU level as well as the use of compulsory-licensing for providing people with access to affordable treatments.
The conference was followed by an advocacy capacity building workshop for patient groups from all over Greece. The country’s civil society remains fragmented and disorganized. Additional serious challenges remain: a) Patient groups do not focus on long-term strategic goals & planning because they are preoccupied with resolving their day-to-day problems and b) there are constant developments in the health sector and numerous issues added to the agenda making it difficult to prioritize and coordinate. Nonetheless, participants acknowledged that they have reached a “now or never” point and they need to forge alliances and overcome their divisions.
Civil society empowerment and pressure on the Greek government will continue in the coming months especially in light of the ongoing Greek Presidency of the Council of the EU (first half of 2014).