A case study contained within a lengthy World Health Organization report reviewing the health inequities among European countries said Greeks may be contracting HIV intentionally in order to go on public assistance.
According to the “case study” contained in the report “Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region: final report,” while suicides, homicide, and thefts increased during the Greek economic crisis, so too did the rate of HIV infection — about half of which the report says were likely self-inflicted to obtain benefits.
“Suicides rose by 17 percent between 2007 and 2009 and to 25 percent in 2010, according to unofficial 2010 data (398),” the case study reads. “The Minister of Health reported a further 40 percent rise in the first half of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. Suicide attempts have also increased, particularly among people reporting economic distress (610). Homicide and theft rates have doubled.
“HIV rates and heroin use have risen significantly, with about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of €700 per month and faster admission on to drug substitution programs,” it continued.
But on Tuesday, the WHO said it had overstated the percentage of documented self-inflicted cases, writing, “WHO recognizes that there is no evidence suggesting that deliberate self-infection with HIV goes beyond a few anecdotal cases. WHO also recognizes that Greece reported a significant increase (52 percent) in new HIV infections from 2010 to 2011, largely driven by infections among people who inject drugs”
The New Scientist reports that the HIV infection rate estimate were for the years 2009-2011.
Media Matters notes that the WHO’s analysis on the rate of self-inflicted HIV is likely a misrepresentation of a report on Greece that appeared in The Lancet. That report focused on the decline in Greek health as a result of the country’s financial crisis — at the time noting the possibility for “a few” people to self-inflicted HIV as a way to obtain benefits.
“These adverse trends in Greece pose a warning to other countries undergoing significant fiscal austerity, including Spain, Ireland and Italy,” the WHO report reads. “It also suggests that ways need to be found for cash-strapped governments to consolidate finances without undermining much-needed investments in health.”
*This story has been updated with details from The Lancet and an update from WHO.