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Being a diabetic in Greece



The question was: “Have you ever had a hard time, as a diabetic, during the crisis?” Diabetes, regulating my blood sugar, insulin injections, anticipating every low (hypoglycaemia) and every rise (hyperglycaemia) daily and treating it, dozens of glucometer readings, doctor’s visits every month to get insulins, lab works I must do every three months and every year, the frustration and the reality of diabetes complications that must be prevented, and never “allowed to just happen”. All that, were the reasons why I feel the pressure and the stress of being a diabetic.

But the reality in Greece has changed in the last five years, as we entered a financial crisis. And that fact alone makes our lives, very hard, almost unbearable to live. This is, in a few words, an account of what has changed in the life of a diabetic, being a citizen of a country in crisis:

  • Unemployment rates have risen. Many diabetics (more than 90% according to official statistical data from organizations of people with disabilities) have lost their jobs. Many parents with diabetic children were forced to close their small business or lost their jobs. The result: We don’t have any medical insurance coverage.
  •  Thousands of patients turned to the public hospitals clinics, because they can’t afford paying specialized doctor’s visits. Shortages in basic medical supplies occurred throughout the country’s hospitals. Those supplies were essential for the treatment of both emergency and chronic patients needs.
  • The social care department gave free medical coverage only on a portion of those who were unemployed, had no means to live and their families (over 1.7 million, plus their families: 1 million more). A million more is poor, yet without insurance. The hospitals pharmacy departments were unable to provide all medicine necessary. The result: thousands of chronic patients (diabetics, cancer treatment patients, heart transplant patients, kidney failure patients, mental health patients) were looking desperately for their prescribed medicine, from one hospital to another.   
  • The health system, revamped in order to comply with the decisions of health ministers, according to the demands of the IMF, ECB and EC (who gave huge amounts of money in loans, just to bail-out the Greek banking system) collapsed financially. So they raised the co-payment rate by 10% and demanded a regular fee from every patient, treated in every hospital, unemployed or not.
  • By law, the minister of health dismantled the biggest medical insurance provider, (which was responsible for gathering the premiums paid from every private sector worker) and gave private-practice doctors the right to demand an extra payment in order to fill in prescriptions, without even examining the patient. In addition, every prescription that reached the drugstore counter was burdened with an extra fee.
  • Lab works were all done in private diagnostic clinics, without any control by the government’s health department, a fact that raised the cost significally. The result: No money to be spent in scheduled lab works, no prevention of complications.
  • Those who had money, spent it in brand-new private clinics, full of “cutting-edge” medical equipment, brought in from countries like Germany and Denmark. The same principle was applied in providing medical equipment in public hospitals, but those deals were made with the hospital administration, who took money on the side to close them.
  • In the same time, in public hospitals, where patients were overflowing, doctors were not paid to do overtime and nurses were scarce, because of a law that prohibited hiring nurses in the public sector. The result: Could not see a doctor as an outpatient, unless you made an appointment 6-8 months ahead, complications that could easily be prevented, occurred in diabetic patients in the highest rate.
  • One of the previous ministers of health in my country shamelessly wondered in public: “how soon until the elderly would die”, so the government could stop paying for their pensions. After that statement, as diabetics and human beings, we feel, constantly under attack, due to our “high cost of staying alive”!
  • The reaction of the Greek people is to create social free-clinics and social free-pharmacy centers, not situated in hospitals. Doctors, who voluntarily offer their services in every corner of this country, are trying to fill the place of an inadequate government planning in health. They make diagnoses, give treatment, guide people through the chaotic health system, so they can get their lab work done for free, refer patients to relevant doctors, push through the system and often find themselves “breaking the law”, by giving free treatment to cancer patients with no insurance. Citizens-volunteers, share their own medicines, and buy expensive medicine and give it away to patients, who are in need. Solidarity in action.
  • In the diabetic community, if someone has medical coverage and can spare a few utility items, shares with others, who need them. Between diabetic patients, sometimes needs are covered by sharing a box of our insulin with another patient, who can’t cope with the financial burden of buying them, because he has no insurance. This is done also, in the community of cancer patients. They all know that this practice of sharing the drug that keeps them alive can convey a risk of not having enough insulin, in case of shortage.
  • Since July, 2013, there is a law that allows patients in an emergency situation, to be hospitalized without having medical coverage (cases of heart attack, DKA, stroke, cancer) so they don’t lose their lives. That law has never been implemented by the hospital administrations, due to the vast cost. The result: dozens of patients dead.
  • Most people can’t afford to pay the electricity bill or provide a meal to their family members, and they are overwhelmed by the huge taxation that has been implemented most exclusively to the poor of our community by the government, in accordance to the “Troika” demands for the “salvation of the country.” If they get, in addition, a diagnosis of a chronic disease, due to stress, they are unable to cope mentally. The result: 10.000 suicides, from being desperate.
    I have roughly estimated  that the cost of staying alive while being a diabetic, in such a dire situation, would be 1500 euros per year (cutting on the amount of insulin taken and the expensive lab works, sticks and needles needed to manage my diabetes). But the value of still being here, coping with a chronic disease while having less or no money, is immeasurable...Profit isn’t everything, people are. 

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