Stillbirths Spike, Birthrate Collapses In Austerity-Hit Greece

(Credit: March of Dimes)

With mass unemployment and public health spending in free-fall, the birthrate in Greece fell by 10 percent and the rate of stillbirths spiked by more than 20 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to a new study.

Researchers at the country’s National School of Public Health say Greece’s unemployment crisis and economic collapse are behind the alarming fertility statistic. A researcher named Efi Simou told the Greek newspaper Enet English that the birthrate findings “should not surprise us because it is known from other studies that economic downturns can be associated with a reduction in births.”

The spike in stillbirths is also connected to the economy and is being compounded by the spending cuts imposed as a condition of the country’s bailout. Greece has cut its public health spending by 40 percent over the past five years, part of reductions required by the austerity package imposed by its creditors. Thanks to austerity, 35,000 health care workers have lost their jobs. Greeks also lose their government-sponsored health insurance if they are unemployed for over a year. Unemployment is nearly 27 percent as of April, and it has been above 20 percent since late 2011.

There are more cuts coming for the 11 million residents of the Hellenic Republic. Further bailout funds from European powers are contingent on another 15,000 public employee layoffs and further pay cuts for those lucky enough to keep their jobs.

The report is a grisly reminder that austerity policies impact health, but it’s certainly not the first. Cuts to government services have had brutal effects not only in Europe but in the United States. Suicides increase more intensely under austerity regimes than in economic downturns unaccompanied by service cuts. About 10,000 suicides in recent years are attributable to austerity, along with jumps in malaria infection rates, HIV rates, food-born illness outbreaks, and a host of other preventable and fatal problems.