Debt-Hit Greece 'Running Out Of Medication'

(c) Sky News 2012
Sky News25 May 2012

Pharmacies in Greece were on strike earlier this week in protest at the government not paying them for medicines that should be free to customers.

Many pharmacies now have huge debts to pharmaceutical companies for drugs they have handed out free of charge.

Sky News spoke to one pharmacist who has not been paid by the state for over a year. 

Evaggelina Rousi, who runs a chemist in Athens, said: "The government owes us 30,000 euros but we have not been paid by them for a year and a half. 

"How can we survive like this? We can't take it anymore."

The shop has stopped re-stocking its shelves and now only orders new drugs once a customer comes in with a prescription.

Dimitris Karageoregiou, secretary general of the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association, told Sky News: "This is an awful situation. Greece is running out of medication... Soon people will start dying because of a lack of medication."

The Catsoula family, who live in the suburbs of Athens, are at breaking point. The two sisters and their elderly grandparents need various forms of medicine. Seventy-year-old Heleni Catsoula uses oxygen to help her with respiratory problems.

But she told Sky News: "The government reimburses me for the 100 euros I pay for the oxygen, but now they have stopped. They also used to pay the chemists for my drugs but they have stopped. 

"Now I owe my local chemists 400 euros and I find it difficult to get my medication. If I have an attack, I don't even have petrol in the tank to get to the hospital. And nor can I afford the five euro entry fee."

The five euro hospital entry fee was a recent austerity measure introduced by the last government.

The family, who live in the industrial area of Aspropirgos, has sold all their jewellery including wedding rings and christening gifts to pay for food and medication.

Ms Catsoula's daughter Vicki, who is diabetic herself, now regularly makes a three-hour journey to a central Athens refuge centre to try to get hold of the drugs her family needs.

For the Catsoulas, austerity has meant the state no longer provides them with the support they need.

Their home sits in the shadow of the Aspropirgos power station and yet they cannot afford to service their electricity bills. One of the sisters lost her job at the factory three years ago.

A sign outside their home asks the energy company to be compassionate and not cut them off.

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