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Feature Public Health

Has austerity brought Europe to the brink of a health disaster?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 18 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3773
  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist
  1. 1 London, UK
  1. sophiearie{at}

As evidence of rising health problems begins to emerge from countries forced to make drastic spending cuts, Sophie Arie asks whether the debt crisis should or could have been handled differently

In April this year, the suicide of a couple of Italian pensioners hit by austerity measures and struggling with bills and debts caused a national outburst of grief and anger. Romeo Dionisi, a 63 year old former builder, lost his job when the company he worked for shut down and then could not start drawing his pension because the retirement age was raised by five years. When his wife’s 78 year old brother heard of their deaths, he too committed suicide. Many condemned the country’s leaders for what they saw as a clear case of “death by state.”

The case in Italy is just one in a soaring number of suicides across the countries in Europe that have had the worst economic problems and been forced to implement the most drastic austerity measures. In Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Ireland suicides have doubled and mental health problems have increased, as have alcohol and drug misuse.1 Malaria has reappeared in Greece for the first time since the 1970s after mosquito spraying programmes were cut. Infant mortality has been rising since 2008 after a long term fall, and there was a 32% increase between 2008 and 2010 in the number of still births—thought to be related to more women being unemployed and not having health insurance.2

Concern is growing that austerity measures, not recession itself, are causing a European health disaster. Southern European countries, which did the most overspending before 2008 and now have the most crippling debts, have been forced to make drastic cuts over short periods in return for bail-out funds from the “troika” (the European Commission, …

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