Austerity, civil society and statistics
From The lancet
Remarkably, 8 years after the onset of the global financial crisis, the consequences for health are still being debated, even in Greece, the country most severely affected by the economic downturn. There can be few better indications of the low priority accorded to health within governments than the difference between the concerted efforts dedicated to understanding the state of the economy and the apparent scarcity of concern about the health of populations. Economists are still divided about the causes of the crisis and how to respond to it, although many view austerity as a mistake.
There are several possible reasons for this scant discussion of health consequences of the recession. First, health issues rarely attract much political or media attention unless they threaten privileged elites. For example, the emergence of SARS in east Asia posed a clear threat to the global business community and thus an immediate, coordinated response occurred. By contrast, many months passed before the world paid any attention to the emergence of Ebola virus in west Africa. Only in the past decade have global leaders accepted the need to respond to the increased burden of non-communicable diseases in low-income and middle-income countries whereas the horrendous toll of death and disability from road traffic accidents in those countries remains largely unacknowledged.
Second … we still do not have timely data on mortality from many countries. Consequently, although financial data were available within days or weeks of the onset of the financial crisis, several years passed before corresponding mortality data were published. This delay keeps the effect on health from getting onto the political agenda, and reinforces its low priority. Because of the difficulty in obtaining data about what was happening to health in Greece, dismissal of the early signs of a crisis was easy. In 2011, echoing many reports by journalists, we reported what we considered to be “omens of a Greek tragedy”, describing a rising unmet need for health care, increasing suicides, and an HIV outbreak among injecting drug users.Yet others dismissed our concerns, arguing, for example, that “there is no evidence that it has affected health” or that budget cuts were “a positive result of improvements in financial management efficiency”.