When a nation goes into economic crisis the paradigm to which its people have become accustomed begins to deteriorate. Access to critical supplies becomes difficult, sometimes immediately. In the case of Greece, which has been dealing with a loss of confidence in its debt instruments and economic policy, the collapse of life as Greeks know it has taken place over the last several years.
While we have been fortunate enough to avoid as severe a calamity here in the United States, many of the forecasts put forth by ourselves and others regarding the effects of an economic collapse are already taking place in Europe, namely Greece. In the midst of the Greek panic in 2010, for example, as Greece’s meltdown was in full swing and the people scrambled to get out of paper currencies, the price of gold, which was trading for around $1100 an ounce in the global commodity exchange marketplace,soared to over $1700 an ounce on the streets of Greece. In recent months, as Greece implements austerity measures and the unemployment rate sky rockets, its people have lost the ability to engage in traditional commerce because, simply put, they have no tangible income or money to do so. As a result, we’ve begun seeing a barter society emerge all over the country, making it possible for some people to directly exchange labor for consumptive goods and service.
When things get bad – and they will – the most essential items necessary for survival will disappear first. As currencies collapse, financial market destabilize and economies come to a standstill, critical supplies like food and medicine will become difficult to acquire at any price. This is exactly what is now taking place in Greece, where access to life-saving drugs and even common over-the-counter medicines like aspirin is becoming a tragedy where the losses will be measured not in Dollars or Euros, but lives.
For patients and pharmacists in financially stricken Greece, even finding aspirin has turned into a headache.
Mina Mavrou, who runs a pharmacy in a middle-class Athens suburb, spends hours each day pleading with drugmakers, wholesalers and colleagues to hunt down medicines for clients. Life-saving drugs such as Sanofi (SAN)’s blood-thinner Clexane and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK)’s asthma inhaler Flixotide often appear as lines of crimson data on pharmacists’ computer screens, meaning the products aren’t in stock or that pharmacists can’t order as many units as they need.
“When we see red, we want to cry,” Mavrou said. “The situation is worsening day by day.”
The 12,000 pharmacies that dot almost every street corner in Greek cities are the damaged capillaries of a complex system for getting treatment to patients. The Panhellenic Association of Pharmacists reports shortages of almost half the country’s 500 most-used medicines.
“It would be unrealistic to deny that there are many difficulties regarding all public services due to the financial crisis,” Nicolaos Polyzos, secretary general of the Ministry of Health, wrote in a response to McKee’s article posted on the ministry’s website.
The reasons for the shortages are complex. One major cause is the Greek government, which sets prices for medicines. As part of an effort to cut its own costs, Greece has mandated lower drug prices in the past year. That has fed a secondary market, drug manufacturers contend, as wholesalers sell their shipments outside the country at higher prices than they can get within Greece.
Strained government finances only make matters worse. Wholesalers and pharmacists say the system suffers from a lack of liquidity, as public insurers delay payments to pharmacies, which in turn can’t pay suppliers on time.
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