Severe cuts in health care expenditures have led to the re-emergence of a once-extinct disease – malaria – in economically battered Greece.
Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, is typically associated with tropical nations of Africa and Asia. But austerity cuts by the Greek government have forced local health officials to curtail spraying programs.
The Telegraph reported that only eight of Athens’ 56 districts could afford to conduct anti-mosquito spraying this year.
Global health organizations have also warned travelers to avoid journeying to parts of the country’s south where the disease has been detected, worrying that the capital may soon be afflicted.
“Cases of malaria continue to be reported in Greece,” said an advisory by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.
“Some new cases have occurred in areas of Greece where malaria had not been previously reported. Cases of malaria have been reported from the Attica, Karditsa, Laconia, Viotia, and Xanthi regions of Greece. Cases have occurred in the cities of Evrotas, Marathon, Markopoulo, and Selino.”
The CDC also advised travelers who visit the worst-hit region, Evrotas, to stock up on anti-malarial pills.
Greece has not recorded a case of malaria since 1974 – this year, at least 70 people have been acknowledged to have contracted the illness through the first nine months of the year (although many of them got the disease overseas).
Reuters reported that 16 people have died in Greece this year from West Nile virus, another disease spread by mosquitoes.
According to the CDC, malaria kills 1 million people annually around the globe, with the overwhelming majority of deaths occurring in Africa, Central and South America, and parts of the Caribbean.
"For a European country, letting this kind of situation develop and not controlling it is a big concern," said Apostolos Veizis, Medecins Sans Frontiers’s director of medical-operational support in Greece, according to Reuters.
"You can't run after malaria. In a country in the European Union, we should not be running after a disease like this in emergency mode. Even in poorly resourced countries in Africa, they have a national plan in place. What I expect from a country that is a member of the EU is at least that."
Johan Giesecke, of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, told Reuters that climate change may also be a culprit in the sudden outbreak of tropical diseases in Greece.