Authors: 'Austerity is bad for your health and kills people'

April 30, 2013 at 10:22 AM
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OXFORD, England, April 30 (UPI) -- Austerity is having a devastating effect on health in Europe and North America, and Europe's leaders are in denial austerity is costing lives, authors say.

Political economist David Stuckler of the University of Oxford and physician-epidemiologist Sanjay Basu of Stanford University School of Medicine, authors of "The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills," due out next month, cited examples from recent history and those of the Great Depression of where government reaction to economic shocks had positive and negative impacts on health, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

"Our politicians need to take into account the serious, and in some cases profound, health consequences of economic choices. But so far, Europe's leaders have been in denial of the evidence that austerity is costing lives," Stuckler said.

On the plus side, Sweden's decision during the recent recession to further labor-market program during a large increase of unemployment is credited with the number of suicides dropping.

However, in Greece, HIV infection rose by more than 200 percent since 2011 as public health budgets, which included programs to prevent HIV were cut, and intravenous drug use rose 50 percent. Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades after mosquito-spraying was cut from the budget, the book said.

During the recent recession, Europe and North America also suffered from shortages of essential medicines, lost healthcare access, had an avoidable epidemic of alcohol abuse and experienced scandals within the British healthcare system, as well as increased homelessness, depression and suicide, the authors said.

However, worsening health is not an inevitable consequence of economic recessions; it's a political choice -- during the Great Depression in the 1930s, U.S. health improved, but in the 1990s about 1 million deaths in Eastern Europe "could be attributed to austerity and related government divestment programs."

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