Suicides, depression and infectious diseases are the main effects of the austerity measures, according to a research of Oxford University political economist David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine and an epidemiologist at Stanford University.
Detailing a decade of research, they said on Monday their findings show austerity is seriously bad for health.
In a book to be published this week, the researchers say more than 10,000 suicides and up to a million cases of depression have been diagnosed during, what they call the “Great Recession”, and its accompanying austerity across Europe and North America.
In Greece, moves like cutting HIV prevention budgets have coincided with rates of the AIDS-causing virus rising by more than 200 percent since 2011 – driven in part by increasing drug abuse in the context of a 50 percent youth unemployment rate.
Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades following budget cuts to mosquito-spraying programmes.
And more than five million Americans have lost access to healthcare during the latest recession, they argue, while in Britain, some 10,000 families have been pushed into homelessness by the government’s austerity budget.
Previous studies by Stuckler published in journals such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal have linked rising suicide rates in some parts of Europe to biting austerity measures, and found HIV epidemics to be spreading amid cutbacks in services to vulnerable people.
But Stuckler and Basu said negative public health effects are not inevitable, even during the worst economic disasters.
Using data from the Great Depression of the 1930s, to post-communist Russia and from some examples of the current economic downturn, they say financial crises can be prevented from becoming epidemics – if governments respond effectively.
As an example, they say, Sweden’s active labour market programmes helped the numbers of suicides to fall there during its recession, despite a big rise in unemployment. Neighbouring countries with no such programmes saw large increases in suicides.