This Is Your Future 2
Doctor Kosmopoulos & The Destruction Of Greek Medicine
Giorgos Kosmopoulos, the surgeon who was profiled in the first article in this series, is one of the founders of Stop Cartel tv, by means of which he tirelessly alerts the world to what is going on in Greece. After taking early retirement this year from Agios Savas hospital in Athens, he received pension benefits for three months, when they suddenly stopped. He then opened a private practice, which proved impossible to sustain. Attempting to be reinstated within the Greek healthcare system, he has so far only been offered one post, in a rural area in the southern Peloponnese, which he refused. He and his family now face eminent eviction from their home of 14 years.
As of Tuesday morning, December 11, the eviction is scheduled to proceed. The Kosmopoulos family have locked themselves in their apartment on Delphon Street, in Glyfada, refusing to allow access to bailiffs or police. Supporters are present in front of his building to try to stop the eviction with non-violent civil disobedience. Doctor Kosmopoulos has begun live streaming. You can watch events as they unfold on Stop Cartel.
If the eviction proceeds, the only present option for Doctor Kosmopoulos and his wife is a squat in Exarchia. Kosmopoulos has said that this is a last resort to keep his family off the streets.
Perhaps the most devastating critique of what is happening in Greece today was delivered by Dimitris Christoulas, a 77-year-old pensioner.
"I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for sustenance," the retired pharmacist wrote on April 4.
Christoulas then walked from his home to Syntagma Square in Central Athens and blew his brains out with a revolver.
The media, if it covered the story at all, used the words quoted above. But was that all he wrote? Here is the full text:
“The Tsolakoglou has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for sustenance. I believe that young people with no future will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.″
The Tsolakoglou was the Greek collaborationist government during World War II. Christoulas was hardly a lonely old pensioner in reduced circumstances.
In Greece, whose suicide rates have historically been among the world’s lowest, Christoulas has become a symbol of the pain the country is suffering at the hands of the Troika.
At the end of 2011, according to statistics, the act of taking one’s life increased an astounding 40%.1 It has continued unabated this year and has in all likelihood got worse.
On Monday, April 30, a 38-year-old geology lecturer hanged himself from a lamp post in the capital, and on the same day a 35-year-old priest jumped to his death off his balcony in northern Greece. On Wednesday, May 2, a 23-year-old student shot himself in the head. This was four days before the country’s national elections on May 6.2
Partial statistics for July 16 are no less grim: a businessman and father of three hanged himself in his shop on the island of Crete; a 49-year-old man from Patras was found by his son, also hanged. On July 25, a 79-year-old man in the southern Peloponnese hanged himself with a cable tied to an olive tree. On August 3, a 31-year-old man shot himself to death at his home near Olympia. On August 5, a 15-year-old boy hanged himself in Pieria. On August 6, a 60-year-old former footballer set himself on fire in Chalcis, and died. And so the lonely list goes on and on.3
The truly efficient modern army no longer invades its weakest neighbor but creates the conditions whereby the people in that country take their own lives. In Greece, people are getting the hint. Some of them, pushed too close to the edge, don’t plan on sticking around to see what else the Troika has in mind for them.
The Greek healthcare system is being hollowed out from within. Earlier this month (December, 2012) Benoît Vitkine published an article in France’s Le Monde, from which the following quotes are taken.4
"In Thessaloniki’s 13 hospitals, doctors are ‘playing God,’ according to Leta Zotaki, director of radiology at Kilkis Hospital. ‘When we start running out of x-ray films, we have to decide who needs to be examined first; we trade with other hospitals or ask the patients to pay for the film,’ the trade unionist explains. Zotaki saw her 4,000 euro monthly salary cut in half. Her night shift hours have not been paid since May."
"There is a shortage of everything at hospitals: latex gloves, cold pads, reagents for blood tests and catheters. [...] Doctors who are leaving – who have either retired, or left for private hospitals or abroad – are not being replaced: in Kilkis, the number of doctors has gone from 160 to 125."
"Since 2009, public spending allocated to the healthcare system has seen a 32% drop. [...] As the unemployment rate has increased (+25% in November) the number of contributors has fallen," inevitably putting further strains on hospitals ability to deliver both care and medicine.
According to the article in Le Monde, "Public healthcare, which had already undergone a 40% budget cut between 2007 and 2009, entered the crisis in a very fragile state. In order to balance its budget, patients were asked to pay a new five-euro fee for every consultation (raised to 25 euros in the new budget), and a variable financial contribution to medical fees. On top of which Greeks sometimes have to pay a fakelaki, a bribe that goes in the doctor’s pocket and allows them to jump the queue."
"Unemployed persons lose medical coverage a year after their job ends, and then must pay medical expenses themselves. In most cases, they don’t go to the doctor. They wait for the situation to worsen so they can go directly to an emergency room at the public hospital. ER admissions have tripled. Intensive care units are also overwhelmed: between 30 and 40 people are denied access to these units every day, according to trade unions."
"Despina Ioanidou, 48, who has been unemployed for eight years, often goes to the local chapter of Doctors of the World to get drugs for her back pain and depression. ‘I have just enough money to pay for electricity and food, so how could I afford to see a doctor or even go to hospital?’ she asks."
"Doctors at this makeshift clinic are seeing new diseases, some of them due to child malnutrition. Everywhere in the country, old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are making a comeback."
These conditions are being found in Greece, a full member of the EU, and not in a war-torn country in what is called the Third World. Or to put it another way, the Troika, in their great benevolence, is replicating the Third World within its own borders. Vitkine goes on to report that "According to the Pan-Hellenic Pharmaceutical Association (PFS), 300 prescription drugs have become nearly impossible to get – a particularly worrying situation for heart disease and cancer patients. Pharmaceutical companies are threatening to stop supplying the drugs altogether. In November, Merck announced it would stop supplying anti-cancer drug Erbitux to hospitals behind on payment." Merck’s profits in 2011 were 6.272 billion in U.S. dollars.5
I leave the last word to a doctor cited in Vitkine’s article. Stavros Baroutis is an administrator at Agios-Dimitrious in downtown Thessaloniki. "The cuts are so violent; the purge is done in such a way that we are killing the system without reforming it.”
4 See translated version here: http://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/postcard-from-the-edge-inside-the-dramatic-collapse-of-greece-039-s-heathcare-system/thessaloniki-medical-drugs-hospitals-god/c3s10308/
5 Merck’s revenue for 2011 was 48.047 bn USD, with a net income of 6.272 bn USD. Source: Merck’s 10-K filing with the IRS.