Austerity, imperialism & disease

Airport malaria is common in Europe. The region is the destination of travelers from many parts of the world, like Africa, where malaria is widespread.

But when local transmission of malaria was reported in Greece in 2012 — the first time in 40 years — alarm bells went off. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert, as did the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Greece’s vital tourism industry was obviously at risk.

According to the Feb. 22, 2012, Lancet, a British medical journal, these cases were reported after some rural Greek communities in particularly susceptible areas of the country stopped spraying mosquito insecticide. Malaria is spread through mosquito bites.

The government resumed spraying, and only three cases were reported in 2013. Results for 2014 are not yet available.

The Lancet article focuses on how the Troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank — imposed a cap on public health care spending as part of conditions for granting Greece a bailout. The Troika’s conditions required Greece to cap its spending at 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

This has had drastic consequences. Drug addicts can no longer get clean needles, which has contributed to the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Prescription costs have increased, and the Greek state is so late in paying pharmacies that many of them have closed or no longer stock medicines. Seventy percent of Greeks say they can no longer afford their medicines.

Mental health care is so poor that the suicide rate has jumped upward. Infant mortality has also shot up.

What makes these cuts in health care worse is that Greeks lose their health insurance after they’ve been unemployed for two years. With unemployment at over 27 percent, many long-term unemployed have to depend on charity for basic survival.

The cuts in health care in Greece can be explained as part of the class war the European and Greek bourgeoisie are waging against Greek workers. The Greek and European bourgeoisie have forced the costs of Greece’s economic collapse on the sick and the workers, regardless of the damage that does to the overall Greek economy and society.

Effects of imperialist war

The spread of polio in the Middle East is linked to the struggle in Syria, where a catastrophic conflict has been fueled and embittered by U.S. and European imperialism’s intervention in the three-year war against the government. The conflict has also pushed millions of Syrians out of their homeland. Since the first case of polio was reported in Syria last fall, 38 more have been reported. Recently a 6-month-old unvaccinated child in Baghdad was confirmed to have polio. This was the first case of polio in Iraq in 14 years.

So far more than 22 million children in seven countries — Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine — have been vaccinated, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. But UNRWA is still not certain that this has stopped the spread of the polio virus, especially given the very difficult conditions in Syria.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are two places where polio in one country spreads to the other. In 2009, it was revealed that the CIA used a Pakistani doctor, Dr. Shakil Afridi, to confirm the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan under the guise of conducting a vaccination campaign. Since then the Taliban has banned vaccinators, saying that the CIA could use them for espionage. (New York Times, July 9, 2012) n