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ISSUE 66 page 7

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Health & Safety

Greece: public health declines due to austerity

 THE BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL THE ‘LANCET’ HAS PUBLISHED a paper by researchers showing the effects of austerity on the health system and the general level of public health in Greece. Under pressure from the EU-IMF-ECB ‘troika’, who explicitly demanded a reduction from €4.37 billion to €2 billion in spending on pharmaceuticals, the government agreed to a cap on health spending of 6% of GDP. As the economy has now shrunk by 25% since the start of the crisis this has involved large real cuts. According to the ‘Lancet’ article ‘public spending for health is now less than any of the other pre-2004 European Union members’. Instead of cracking down on middle men charging three to four times the going rate for prescription drugs, softer targets such as services for illegal drug users and the mentally ill were slashed. The number of new HIV infections among injecting drugs users rose from 15 in 2009 to 484 in 2012, tuberculosis more than doubled from 2012 to 2013 and malaria has reappeared locally. Mental health spending fell by 20% between 2010 and 2011 and by another 55% in the next year;
deaths by suicide increased by 45% in the period 2007-2011. Health care for pregnant women and new-born  babies has been affected both by budget cuts and increased poverty and unemployment. ‘The latest available data suggest a 19% increase in the number of low birth-weight babies between 2008 and 2010’, says the ‘Lancet’ while there was a ‘21% rise in still births between 2008 and 2011’. The article accepts that ‘the Greek health-care system had serious inefficiencies before the crisis’ but concludes that ‘the scale and speed of imposed change have constrained the capacity of the public health system to respond to the needs of the population’. The prognosis is uncertain with a further cut of €2.66 billion agreed for this year and WHO (World Health Organisation) help secured for the re-structuring of the Greek healthcare system together with the launch of a voucher scheme designed to provide access to primary care for uninsured people, many of whom are long-term unemployed.

NHS in Greece: no flesh left on the bones



Hungary starts them young with chemical safety

CHEMICAL SAFETY INSPECTORS IN HUNGARY have pioneered a novel way of increasing awareness of toxic substances. According to the annual report of the National Institute of Chemical Safety, children are involved in up to 20% of human poisoning cases in the country. They have therefore devised a programme aimed at nursery-age children, their parents and teachers with the aim of teaching children the main hazard symbols while informing parents about safe ways to store and use chemicals. The initiative includes posters, educational stories and nursery rhymes, board games and interactive sessions to build on their knowledge. Typically the kids could recognise two or three stickers on a sheet of eight symbols before the programme but this rose to six or seven afterwards. The ‘Learn it! - Beware of the risks!' initiative began in a small area of southern Hungary where it has involved 3,500 children, their parents and about 200 teachers. After winning an award it is spreading to other localities but is hampered by the lack of funds available during the country’s deep financial crisis.


Hungarian children learn chemical safety through play

NGOs smell a chemical rat in EU-US talks

THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE U.S.A. are currently in the middle of negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The professed aim is an agreement that would  increase trade between the two trading blocs through the minimisation of technical barriers. However it is already under suspicion by unions and environmental groups for the possible inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) which would allow companies to sue any government that passed a law which it felt contravened the agreement. Now a more specific concern has been raised by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and ClientEarth, two Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who seek to use law to protect the environment. They have seized on a leaked document which  contains a proposal by chemical industry bodies for a joint scientific committee and cost-benefit analyses before any new regulation in the field is passed. The NGOs believe that the industry is trying to freeze chemicals regulation and point to the lack of progress on a law for endocrine-disrupting substances which the EU promised for the end of last year (see issue 64).

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