When Greece's economy took a plunge, murders and disease rates soared, according to a study that suggests the impact of the European nation's austerity cuts may be worse than expected.
Suicide and murder rates climbed from 2007 to 2009, particularly among men, and unusual outbreaks of malaria, West Nile virus and HIV took clinicians by surprise, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday.
The decline in health and rising violence came as Greece's once robust economy collapsed into recession following the global economic crisis of 2007. The government implemented austerity measures that included a major downsizing of the Ministry of Health, where spending fell nearly 24 per cent from 2009 to 2011.
"We were expecting that these austerity policies would negatively affect health services and health outcomes, but the results were much worse than we imagined," said lead author Elias Kondilis, a researcher at Aristotle University.
Among the general population of some 11 million people, suicide rates rose 16 per cent and murders climbed nearly 26 per cent from 2007 to 2009, according to the findings, which draw on Greek government data. Meanwhile, deaths from infectious diseases increased 13 per cent in those two years.
Among men under 65, the numbers were higher - a 23 per cent higher suicide rate, a 25 per cent rise in the murder rate and a 27.6 per cent rise in deaths from infectious diseases.
When initiatives like needle exchanges for drug users and condoms for at-risk groups were slashed, disease rates ballooned. Researchers were surprised to see three infectious disease outbreaks in a span of 18 months from July 2010 to December 2011.
They included a West Nile outbreak that infected 197 and killed 35 people, and an outbreak of malaria. Also, there was a 57 per cent spike in newly diagnosed cases of HIV, from 607 new HIV cases in 2010 to 954 in 2011.