As a First World country, Belgium enjoys the benefits of a solid healthcare system and a high life expectancy; however, it is not without its share of problems. The most common diseases in Belgium are, for the most part, many of the same diseases the U.S. struggles with today. In no particular order, here are just three of the most common life-threatening illnesses in Belgium currently and what is being done to combat them:
1. Cancer. This comes as no surprise, as cancer is one of the leading causes of death in most industrialized nations. Breast and prostate cancers are by far the most common types. In 2012, the World Health Organization reported over 14 million cases of breast cancer and over 13 million cases of prostate cancer in Belgium. Second in prevalence to these two types is bowel cancer, which affected roughly 5.5 million people in 2012. Lung cancer has also been a major issue, especially in 2009, when Belgium saw a rise in mortality rates for women with lung cancer. This rate has gone down since 2011, when smoking was banned in all public places in Belgium, but the disease is still incredibly prevalent. In 2012, Belgium reported an estimated 5 million cases of lung cancer. Perhaps because of this Belgium is a world leader in cancer research. In 2015, 513 different clinical trials in cancer treatment were underway, with 15 new cancer drugs approved for reimbursement the previous year. Since 1980 – thanks to these trials – the average life expectancy for cancer patients has gone up three years, and the many researchers in Belgium hope to continue this trend.
2. Heart disease. Another one of the most common diseases in Belgium, it was ranked as the number one cause of both death overall and premature death between 2005 and 2015. Thankfully, that mortality rate has dropped roughly 5.3 percent in that time. It is still, however, the leader in mortality by far; The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated about 105 million years of total lives lost in 2015 due to heart disease. In Europe as a whole, however, the number of lives lost due to heart disease has decreased in recent years thanks to the introduction of increased screening, new surgical procedures, new drugs and lifestyle changes – such as quitting smoking – to the population.
3. Mental illness. This is a tricky category to define, and yet it clearly needs to be addressed. In 2015, the IHME estimated that nearly 67 million years were lost due to self harm, which is significantly higher than the European average. Suicide remains one of the top causes of premature death in the country. In response to this, the World Health Organization devised a Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020, which states that mental health services in Belgium will switch from institutional psychiatric care to an inclusive care system with a focus on community. This is part of a sweeping mental healthcare reform which has already shown to be effective in improving health and social outcomes for patients.
Many of the most common diseases in Belgium are complex, lifestyle-based illnesses with no one simple solution. However, through a combination of research, lifestyle changes and health reform, Belgium hopes to continue to improve the quality and length of life for its residents.
– Audrey Palzkill