October 2014 - In 2012, EPHA published its first ‘facts and figures’ briefing on the impacts of the economic crisis on health. Two years later, the revised and updates briefing finds that the impacts of austerity politics and economic recession continue to threaten the health and wellbeing of Europeans.
Trends in increased suicide rates, unemployment, social exclusion and unmet health needs prevail, most acutely in the newer member states and in those receiving financial support. The updated facts and figures briefing aims to map the changing indicators and provide a snapshot of health in Europe as work to rebuild and strengthen the EU’s social dimension continues.
Some remarkable findings on the social impacts of the economic crisis
The unemployment rate of the EU 28 has increased continuously, from 7.2% in 2007 to 9.7% in 2010, and 11% in 2013. However, some member states in particular have suffered severely. In Greece, for example, the unemployment rate rose from 8.4% in 2007 to 27.5% in 2013. Similar results were recorded in Spain, where unemployment rose from 8.3% in 2007 to 26.2% in 2013
The deterioration of the unemployment rate is the worst for young people. In 19 of the EU 28 youth unemployment reached 20% and more in 2013. Greece and Spain are affected the most, with an unemployment rate of 58.3% and 55.5%, respectively, in 2013.
The percentage of the EU 28 at risk of poverty and social exclusion stood at 23.7% in 2010 and increased to 24.8% in 2012. Three member states have displayed particularly worrying unemployment figures for 2012: Greece (34.6%), Romania (41.7%) and Bulgaria (49.3%).
Some remarkable findings on the public health impacts of the economic crisis
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that across Europe and Northern America, the recession has been responsible for 100,000 suicides. The primary causes for these suicides were unemployment, having a home repossessed and falling into debt.
Although it is too early to comprehensively evaluate the broader effects of the economic crisis upon the health of an entire population, some general trends and indications are already visible. For example, a WHO study finds that in countries implementing austerity measures, the re-emergence of malaria and the transmission of dengue fever have been reported, whilst in Greece, a major upsurge in HIV infections amongst intravenous drug users has been recorded.
Some remarkable findings on health systems impacts of the economic crisis
The proportion of public spending dedicated to health has decreased in most member states since 2008. Around half of all EU countries experienced a decline in allocated governmental resources for health between 2007 and 2010, with the largest falls being recorded in Ireland, Iceland, Greece, Portugal and Latvia.
Some of the measures taken to reduce costs have directly reduced the availability of frontline services and institutions. In Latvia, for example, the number of hospitals dropped from 106 to 39 between 2006 and 2010, and the number of hospital beds decreased from 761 to 493.
Member states have adopted measures which directly affect healthcare professionals and those responsible for delivering care. In Bulgaria more than 836 nurses migrated to other countries as a result of the 10-25% cuts in wages for nurses and midwives. A further 1,000 nurses left the profession because of low job security and low salaries.