According to The New York Times' David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, M.D., people "looking for work are about twice as likely to end their lives as those who have jobs". While this may seem like "an unavoidable consequence of economic downturns" they note that "countries that slashed health and social protection budgets [...] have seen starkly worse health outcomes than nations like Germany, Iceland and Sweden, which maintained their social safety nets and opted for stimulus over austerity."
At one extreme is Greece, which is in the middle of a public health disaster. The national health budget has been cut by 40 percent since 2008, partly to meet deficit-reduction targets set by the so-called troika the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank as part of a 2010 austerity package. Some 35,000 doctors, nurses and other health workers have lost their jobs. Hospital admissions have soared after Greeks avoided getting routine and preventive treatment because of long wait times and rising drug costs. Infant mortality rose by 40 percent. New H.I.V. infections more than doubled, a result of rising intravenous drug use as the budget for needle-exchange programs was cut. After mosquito-spraying programs were slashed in southern Greece, malaria cases were reported in significant numbers for the first time since the early 1970s.
In contrast, Iceland avoided a public health disaster even though it experienced, in 2008, the largest banking crisis in history, relative to the size of its economy. After three main commercial banks failed, total debt soared, unemployment increased ninefold, and the value of its currency, the krona, collapsed. Iceland became the first European country to seek an I.M.F. bailout since 1976. But instead of bailing out the banks and slashing budgets, as the I.M.F. demanded, Icelands politicians took a radical step: they put austerity to a vote. In two referendums, in 2010 and 2011, Icelanders voted overwhelmingly to pay off foreign creditors gradually, rather than all at once through austerity. Icelands economy has largely recovered, while Greeces teeters on collapse. No one lost health care coverage or access to medication, even as the price of imported drugs rose. There was no significant increase in suicide. Last year, the first U.N. World Happiness Report ranked Iceland as one of the worlds happiest nations.
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