BARCELONA: The massive budget cuts undertaken by the Spanish government could lead to the "effective dismantling of large parts of its health-care system" and "could see increases in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and the virus that causes AIDS," warned British researchers in a paper published by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported by Reuters.
The study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that Spain's national budget cuts of almost 14 percent and regional budget cuts of up to 10 percent in health and social services in 2012 have coincided with increased demands for care, particularly from the elderly, disabled and mentally ill. The researchers also noted increases in depression, alcohol-related disorders and suicides in Spain since the financial crisis hit and unemployment increased.
Spain already has one of the lowest public expenditures on healthcare for its Gross Domestic Product in the European Union. "Further cuts of €1.10 billion [$1.5B USD] are to be made this year to the dependency fund for the elderly and disabled, putting these vulnerable people even more at risk," reported the European AIDS Treatment Action Group.
Key changes made by the Spanish government include excluding undocumented immigrants from accessing free healthcare services and increasing the co-payments that patients must make for extra treatments such as drugs, prosthetics and some ambulance trips. Authorities with devolved powers in 17 regions across Spain have also been required to make further cuts, and in Madrid and Catalonia this has led to a move towards privatisation of hospitals, increases in waiting times, cutbacks in emergency services and fewer surgical procedures.
Barcelona is the capital and largest city of the autonomous region of Catalonia, which has been substantially impacted by the budget cuts to health care and research, according to speakers and attendees at AIDS Vaccine 2013, which opened Monday in Barcelona. #AIDSVax2013 is described as the "world's leading scientific meeting on HIV vaccine research" and is attended by more than 1,000 leading researchers, funders and policy makers.
The Spanish government contributed $5.6 million toward funding HIV vaccine research in 2009. The investment decreased to only $3.3 in 2010, according to a report co-authored by Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and UNAIDS.
The example often cited is that of Greece, which has seen HIV, TB and other disease increases since it slashed public health budgets to repay more than €230 in loans from the European Union since 2010, reports CNN.
"As a result, HIV infections have jumped by more than 200% since 2010, concentrated in injection drug users, as needle-exchange program budgets were cut in half. There was a malaria epidemic in Greece -- the largest in 40 years -- after mosquito-spraying budgets were slashed."
Spain's official Septmeber 2013 unemployment rate is about 26 percent, reports Deutsche Welle. The youth unemployment rate is at least twice that number, say experts.