A new report by Reuters explains that the energy crisis could drive some patients in Spain and other European countries into poverty, leaving them with a stark choice: Breathing or eating.

  • Casais cries as he reads messages of concern over his wellbeing. (REUTERS)
    Casais cries as he reads messages of concern over his well-being. (Reuters)

The dire situation for families and households struggling to pay their energy bills has deteriorated as a result of increased prices and Europe's energy crisis.

A new report by Reuters sheds light on the case of Jose Maria Casais' whose monthly income of $2,916 from pension and disability payments should make him better off than most Spaniards, however, he is suffering due to high power prices.

Casais, a retired engineer residing in Barcelona, said as quoted by Reuters, that he is forced to dip into his funds every month since his energy expenditures have skyrocketed due to his dependency on an oxygen machine to treat his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He has been hooked up to an oxygen concentrator for up to 24 hours a day for the past two years, according to the report. 

Casais' electricity bill has nearly tripled since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, which sparked an energy crisis in Europe due to Europe's reliance on Russian gas.

Spain's middle class has been plunged into poverty by the recession. According to an Oxfam survey, nearly 4% of Spanish households in the fourth income decile - a category traditionally seen as middle class - have spent more than half of their income on energy since prices rose last year.

Whereas before the energy crisis, nearly half of the Spanish households could save, Oxfam believes that barely three in ten can now.

The report added that Casais spends between $300 and $400 a month on electricity, which is roughly triple what he spent before the crisis, leaving little or nothing for other necessities following medical bills, which include a live-in caregiver. He has to start drawing on his money by the middle of the month, he said.

The oxygen concentrator he uses draws air through a compressor, eliminating nitrogen and filtering oxygen before delivering it to the patient. Depending on how difficult it is for Casais to breathe on any given day, he will remain linked for between 17 and 24 hours.

Not an isolated incident

“With this rise in electricity prices they have to decide between eating and breathing,”


Nicole Hass, APEPOC spokesperson said.

Casais is not an isolated case. COPD affects an estimated five million people in Spain, according to Dr. Sergi Pascual, pulmonology unit coordinator at Hospital del Mar in Barcelona.

According to the Spanish Association for Patients with COPD (APEPOC), it is the third leading cause of death worldwide, and the fourth in Spain.

Patients in other countries are also in distress. According to a survey of over 3,600 people with lung disorders conducted by the charity Asthma + Lung UK, one in every five Britons with asthma reported life-threatening attacks as they cut back on medicines, heating, and food due to the rising cost of living.

Other diseases, such as renal failure, need electricity-guzzling machinery to survive, according to two medical organizations that handle kidney illness.

Eating or breathing?

Casais stated that if he did not have his oxygen machine, he would have to be permanently hooked up to a machine in a hospital, losing his independence and costing the state more money.

According to Nicole Hass, a spokesperson for APEPOC, many electricity-dependent Spaniards face some difficult choices: "With the increase in electricity prices, families must choose between eating and breathing."

APEPOC urges Spain's municipal governments to subsidize all COPD patients' energy expenditures, regardless of income.

The report stressed that Casais has already changed his diet to save money. He now subsists on one-euro packs of processed beef and tuna tins, and is thinking about remortgaging his condo to cover his medical and energy bills.

The EU has been imposing unprecedented sanctions against Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine. As a result, when the EU rejected Russian energy, citizens suddenly faced food shortages and rising energy prices, not to mention the rise in the cost of living.

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