Healthcare in LatviaLatvia is a small country in the Baltic region with a population of fewer than 2 million people. The republic was under Soviet control from 1940 until it gained its independence in 1991. Latvia has made noticeable progress increasing its life expectancy rate at birth over the last few decades from 70.2 years in 2000 to 74.8 years in 2015. However, the country is currently undergoing major demographic shifts. While its birth rate is decreasing, its death rate is high, ranked fourth in the world. In addition to various public health threats, the healthcare system in Latvia is grappling with significant challenges that affect its efficiency and quality. Here are five things to know about Healthcare in Latvia

5 Things to Know About Healthcare in Latvia

  1. Several indicators show that the public health profile in Latvia is relatively weak in relation to comparable countries. For instance, the country’s life expectancy in 2015 was the third-lowest among EU countries. In the same year, Latvia had the highest notification rate of Hepatitis C in the EU. In 2014, adult obesity levels were at 21%, placing Latvia third among EU countries.
  2. Latvia spends less than similar countries on healthcare. In 2015, the country spent only 5.8% of its GDP, equal to €1,071 per capita. This falls considerably below the EU average of 9.9%. These statistics showcase the lingering challenges of the country’s underfunded healthcare system. Physician and hospital bed density rates also provide clarity in this respect. In 2017, Latvia had 3.19 physicians and 5.6 beds per 1,000 people.
  3. Obesity, smoking and heavy drinking are major poor health trends in Latvia. In 2015, the average Latvian adult consumed 10.8 liters of alcohol. Furthermore, 20% of adults in the country heavily consume alcohol regularly, with men being the greater consumers than women. In addition, one in four adults in the country smoked daily in 2014. This is a higher percentage than the EU average of 21%.
  4. Healthcare in Lativa has undergone many reforms since the country gained independence in 1991. In 2011, the country created a National Health Service (NHS)-type system. The NHS controls the implementation of healthcare policies, while the Ministry of Health develops policies and oversees the system. Though all citizens receive coverage through the system, patients still have to pay for user charges and other significant out-of-pocket costs. In 2014, Latvia ranked second among EU nations in its household out-of-pocket expenses to health expenditures ratio, which was 39%.
  5. A Latvian individual’s likelihood of exposure to poor health outcomes depends on his social and economic status. For instance, according to the European Health Interview Survey, more than 3% of Latvians have asthma. People from lower-education and lower-income backgrounds are the most susceptible group. Inequalities also emerge with regard to perceptions of health among Latvians. Approximately one-third of Latvians from low-income backgrounds claim to be in good health, in contrast to two-thirds from high-income backgrounds. Similarly, access to healthcare varies depending on location. Those living in rural areas may face greater difficulty accessing health services owing to shortages of medical professionals in these areas.

Based on these facts, it is clear that healthcare in Latvia needs critical adjustments in order to improve the country’s health profile. Not only is Latvia’s spending on this sector very low compared to other EU nations, but problems like obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption signal an urgent need for improvement. Ensuring equal access is also an important goal for the country to strive toward.

Oumaima Jaayfer
Photo: Pxfuel