Politics of austerity and ‘otherness’ as public health determinants

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In 2009, after the onset of the economic crisis, malaria re-appeared in Greece after 35 years being officially free of the disease, with 51 individual cases. Six of those were transmitted within the country’s jurisdiction and specifically around the Evrotas River Delta, in Peloponnese – a region that would become the epicentre of an epidemic for the following years. Malaria-enabling conditions that have existed in the Evrotas region before the crisis (intensified agriculture, slow preventive health mechanism, and vulnerable immigrant workers) were exacerbated through a politics of austerity that not only restricted health budgets but also created stigmatizing discourse against immigrants, who were mostly the victims of this epidemic. Reproducing xenophobic sentiments was politically expedient at the time, as part of wider efforts to create “scapegoats” and conceal the real reasons of the unfolding “health tragedy” and of the broader crisis. Through a political ecology of health, we look at malaria as an experienced biophysical illness, an ecological phenomenon, a social symbol, and a discursive construction. We explain how the racist biopolitics of austerity and the narratives that it mobilized shaped local socio-environmental conditions into becoming welcoming grounds for the disease to spread. What we further stress is how these racist narratives of blame essentially weakened malaria control, contributing to its spread.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Political Ecology of Austerity
Subtitle of host publicationCrisis, Social Movements, and the Environment
ISBN (Electronic)9781003036265
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2021

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