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Greek health minister calls for 'great sacrifices'

By Oliver Joy and Irene Chapple
September 18, 2012 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Likourentzos said the healthcare system is 2 billion euros [$2.6 billion] in debt.
  • Greece spends 11 billion euros ($14.4 billion) annually on its healthcare system

(CNN) -- Greece is being asked to make "great sacrifices" but the country's sick will not suffer from a lack of medical help, health minister Andreas Likourentzos says.

His comments come as cancer patients protest against health care reforms they say are cutting them off from expensive but life-saving drugs.

Likourentzos, of the New Democracy party, told CNN: "We need to cut down the expenses but these cuts will not negatively affect those who need direct access to healthcare services."

Greece spends 11 billion euros ($14.4 billion) annually on its healthcare system -- taking up 5.5% of the country's total economic output.

Likourentzos said the healthcare system is 2 billion euros [$2.6 billion] in debt. The country needs to cut the sector's expenses back from 3.7 billion euros [$4.8 billion] last year to 2.9 billion euros [$3.7 billion] this year, he said.

The cuts are due to be made as Greece, at the center of the eurozone's financial crisis, comes under intense pressure from both its international lenders and suppliers to its health care system.

"What the pharmacists say is true. We owe money to the pharmacists, the pharmaceutical companies and generally all the suppliers of the national health system," he said.

The healthcare service cuts are part of broader austerity plans Greece must push through -- including cuts of 11.5 billion euros [$15 billion] -- if it is to receive its next tranche of bailout cash.

The Troika -- a group of auditors made up of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union -- is in Greece to assess the progress of the country's austerity program and reforms to public finances.

The group is due to produce its report at the end of September.

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