Italy

Calabria, Europe’s Worst Hospitals

A story of the Mafia and an inefficient health service

The Italian healthcare system is one of the worst in Europe. Or rather, the healthcare system in Calabria, one of its southern regions. Sadly infamous for one the world’s most powerful mafias: ‘Ndrangheta. As the famous public prosecutor and champion of the fight against the mafia, Nicola Gratteri, once said, “’Ndrangheta and deviant freemasonries control entire sectors of the Calabrian healthcare system ”, fomenting one of Europe’s biggest healthcare disasters. Calabria, despite not recording many Covid cases, is still considered to be a high-risk region due to the terrible state of its healthcare system. The situation is so bad that the Italian Government has had to call Emergency, the NGO usually found providing assistance in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, to manage the pandemic emergency and increase the availability of sub-intensive care units.

The Calabrian healthcare system is a poisonous cocktail of waste, corruption and mafia infiltration, but also of incompetence, negligence and indifference. The numbers are brutal: there aren’t enough doctors, nurses, ambulances, or A&E units; the appointment of a temporary administration in 2010 led to the closure of 18 hospitals and since then the system has amassed debts of more than € 225 million. Many hospitals can only provide a limited service, others have been built but never opened, and in some areas of Calabria the number of hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants is a depressing 0.8 (the Italian average is approximately 3.7). When the ex-Italian Minister of Health, Giulia Grillo, visited some local hospitals in 2019, she said: “in Locri the situation is almost impossible to believe, in the pneumonia ward 1,765 out-of-date medicines were discovered”. Nowadays Calabrians (one in five) go elsewhere for their treatment, particularly to northern Italy. Like Angelo Bevilacqua, who underwent surgery for prostate cancer in Bergamo in 2019: “I worked in Germany for years before returning to live in Cariati six years ago. I’ve regretted it ever since”.