HIV and malaria return to Greece

Earlier this month, Greek journalist Nick Malkoutzis wrote a piece asking the question, "Is Greece a Failed State?" The title was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but at the Guardian reports, Medecins Sans Frontieres, more accustomed to working in countries like Sudan or Chad, is finding some disturbingly familiar trends in the EU member state:

The incidence of HIV/Aids among intravenous drug users in central Athens soared by 1,250% in the first 10 months of 2011 compared with the same period the previous year, according to the head of Médecins sans Frontières Greece, while malaria is becoming endemic in the south for the first time since the rule of the colonels.[...]

The extraordinary increase in HIV/Aids among drug users, due largely to the suspension or cancellation of free needle exchange programmes, has been accompanied by a 52% increase in the general population.

"We are also seeing transmission between mother and child for the first time in Greece," she said. "This is something we are used to seeing in sub-Saharan Africa, not Europe. There has also been a sharp increase in cases of tuberculosis in the immigrant population, cases of Nile fever – leading to 35 deaths in 2010 – and the reappearance of endemic malaria in several parts of Greece, notably the south."

According to Papadopoulos, such sharp increases in communicable diseases are indicative of a system nearing breakdown. "The simple fact of the reappearance of malaria, with 100-odd cases in southern Greece last year and 20 to 30 more elsewhere, shows barriers to healthcare access have risen," she said. "Malaria is treatable, it shouldn't spread if the system is working."

According to the article, MSF has been active in Greece for over 20 years but until now has generally worked on disaster relief, not taking the place of the country's public health sector.  

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