ITALY MEDICINE, SCHMEDICINE

Italians are turning to alternative medicine in increasing numbers. According to a survey in 2000 by the National Statistics Institute, ISTAT, up to three times as many people chose alternatives to traditional medicine in 1999 than in 1991; roughly nine million Italians in all, almost one-sixth of the population, preferred to go to someone other than a medical doctor to treat an ailment. The study was based on a sample of 30,000 families. Women led the trend, especially those with a relatively high level of education who resided in the northeast. The most typically cited cures were homeopathy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and phytotherapy (a somewhat rarer approach based on the curative power of plants). Homeopathy”treating a disease with small doses of the same disease”has seen the greatest increase in popularity over the last decade. In 1991, 2.5 percent of the Italian population used that method; by the end of the decade, 8.2 percent did.

While northerners were described as the most eager to try new methods, one out of six people in the central regions did the same, as compared to one out of 15 in the South. More than 60 percent of those who sought alternative treatment were women. About 40 percent of respondents said they approved of alternative medicine, and 23 percent said they did not, while the rest passed no judgment. As for those who had actually tried it at some point, 91 percent said they were pleased with the results. When picking up a prescription at the counter, you normally have to pay a fee of about ‚2 along with your ticket for the subsidized medicine. If the prescription is for a serious illness, such as a heart condition, often there will be no fee at all. The government also subsidizes treatments for drug addicts.

Unfortunately, this system has been plagued by scandals. Courts have issued hundreds of indictments for fraud and bribery in the health industry, ranging from pharmacists who cashed in bogus tickets for state-subsidized prescriptions they claimed to have filled, to more subtle cases involving doctors accused of accepting what judges called bribes from drug companies, usually in the form of all-expenses paid vacations, in exchange for pushing their brands. The Health Ministry said it plans to clear up rules about promotional offers for doctors in the future.

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