Update: WHO has retracted the report and issued an apology regarding the erroneous information it contained.
A growing number of Greek residents have injected themselves with HIV so they can claim about $950 in monthly health benefits, according to a report commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The report, “Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region”, found cases of self-inflicted HIV infections in Greece, as the population continues to grapple with a deeply troubled economy.
The country’s suicide rate has also skyrocketed, while healthcare access has declined.
“These adverse trends in Greece pose a warning to other countries undergoing significant fiscal austerity, including Spain, Ireland and Italy,” the report noted.
“It also suggests that ways need to be found for cash-strapped governments to consolidate finances without undermining much-needed investments in health.”
Despite severe austerity measures, which have prompted massive protests in Greece, the country’s economy has continued to decline, with unemployment soaring to 27 percent.
Homicide and theft rates have correspondingly doubled, the WHO report said, adding: “Prostitution has also risen, probably as a response to economic hardship.”
The WHO’s report stated that almost half of new infections were attributable to self-infliction.
However, the report relies in part on an article in the medical journal Lancet, which references “accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes.”
The Lancet report, in turn, cites a study by the Greek University Mental Health Research Institute, which describes a “well-founded suspicion that some problem users are intentionally infected with HIV, because of the benefit they are entitled to (approximately €1,400 every two months), and also because they are granted “exceptional admission” to the Substitution Programme.”
The WHO study also found that suicides rose by 17 percent in a two-year period ending in 2009, with the Health Ministry citing a further 40 percent rise in the first half of 2011.
In the meantime, Greeks have had poorer access to healthcare as hospital budgets have been slashed.
WHO commissioned the report to review inequities among countries in the European Region and recommend policies to bridge the gaps.
Since the spring of 2010, Greece has been dependent on bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries.
Stringent austerity measures have failed to revive the Greek economy, instead fuelling sustained public anger.
In September, thousands of civil servants marched through Athens as part of a two-day national strike against planned job cuts.