Unemployment, Poverty Prompt Greek Doctors to Establish "Robin Hood" Clinic
Debt crisis leaves 600,000 without health insurance, medical treatment
Doctors in Greece have organized a "Robin Hood network" to provide healthcare to the approximately 600,000 unemployed who lack health insurance, largely as the result of layoffs from the country's debt crisis, The New York Times reports.
As the financial crisis has worsened, Greece's universal healthcare system has essentially collapsed for the poor, said Elias Sioras, union president for Evangelismos Hospital.
Those with money can find healthcare—which now largely must be paid for in cash—but that's not an option for the poor.
So the physicians organized a "surreptitious network" to help uninsured cancer patients and others who are sick, using spare medicines donated by pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies and even by the families of cancer patients who have died, Liz Alderman for The New York Times reports. Staff members volunteer their time.
Three months ago, Dr. Giorgos Vichas founded the Metropolitan Social Clinic near an abandoned Air Force base near Athens.
When the clinic opened, according to pediatrician Liana Mamilli, it mostly served immigrants and refugees, but "this last year that has completely changed. Now the majority of people visiting us are Greeks."
Many of their patients struggle with cancer, for which medicine, chemotherapy and surgery can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Elena, an unemployed woman, told The New York Times that she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year before she found the clinic, but her cancer had already spread to the point that Dr. Kostas syringes, chief of oncology at Sotiria General Hospital said "We were speechless … Everyone was crying."
Elena said that when she found the clinic, she learned, "there is somebody who cares."
On Wednesday, the Greek government and its lenders agreed on a new $17.5 billion austerity package of budget cuts and tax increases—meaning the current 25 percent unemployment rate will likely increase.
Nikolete Karayianni's family is among the unemployed, and her grandchild has no health insurance.
"The electrify is cut, the water is cut… the situation is really hard," she said. "I'm in despair. The situation is really hard."
Healthcare spending has declined 13 percent in the last two years, The New York Times reported, and Soiros said the budget for Greece's largest hospital has been reduced from 287 million Euros in 2011 to 136 million Euros in 2012.
Soiros said people have died because of poverty—and lack of healthcare, adding, 'The worst is still to come."
Karayianni said she doesn't hold much hope that things will get better any time soon.
"For the next 3 to 4 years, I think things will get worse," she said. "They're laying off people all the time. How can it get better?"