Currently, 23.4% of the Latvian population is in poverty. This number has risen from the 2019 rate of 21.6%, partly due to the low health care budget and lack of care accessibility. Low socioeconomic status often leads to poor access to health resources. BioMed Research International article states, “Less education, low income or unemployment and lower position in the hierarchal society have a strong positive association with lower levels of perceived health.” Diseases in Latvia affect those in poverty at higher rates and push others into poverty in the aftermath of their destruction.
COVID-19 in Latvia
COVID-19 had significant negative impacts on the steady growth of Latvian life expectancy. Latvia has one of the lowest life expectancies in the European Union (EU). The country was largely unprepared for the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national health system still struggles with underfunding and supplying equipment and staff. Latvia’s health expenditure per capita is among the fourth lowest in the EU and the country has one of the highest out-of-pocket health care spendings in the EU. Often those in poverty cannot afford health care because of the high out-of-pocket cost. Those fortunate to afford health care often experience severe impacts from the high spending it necessitates and 15% of households have reported spending “catastrophic amounts” on health care.
General Heath and Cancer
In 2019, less than half of the Latvian population stated they were healthy. Only 25% of those in the lowest income quintile reported feeling healthy. In comparison, 69% of those in the highest income quintile reported being in good health, according to the State of Health in the EU report.
Many of the diseases in Latvia causing destruction are preventable and treatable. However, timely health care is necessary to prevent diseases in Latvia from killing more impoverished people. Cancer is one of the most prominent diseases plaguing Latvia. Cancer screening rates, though growing, remain under the average for the EU, contributing to the country’s below-average five-year survival rates, according to the same report. Latvia has attempted to increase screening for cancer through informational campaigns in 2017 and 2019, as well as educational seminars in the workplaces and financial incentive tests to increase screening rates.
How Disease Affects the Poor
In Latvia, 4.3% of the population reported not getting necessary medical care because of out-of-pocket expenses, according to the State of Health in the EU report. In Article 111, the Latvian Constitution declares that “The State shall protect human health and guarantee a basic level of medical assistance for everyone.” Unfortunately, those in poverty in Latvia often do not receive these rights. Often health care providers are also concentrated in urban areas, constricting the availability of needed services to those living rurally.
The Good News
The European Commission hopes to combat the low access to health care and high costs in Latvia and other countries through its newly adopted pharmaceutical strategy. According to the State of the Health in the EU report, Latvia implemented this strategy in November 2020 and focused on making needed medicines affordable by improving the sustainability and capacity of the EU’s pharmaceutical industry. Through this initiative, the EU hopes to ensure access to affordable medicine, address unmet medical needs, and develop safer and more effective medication. Ensuring the availability of medication is one of the essential factors in preventing and treating diseases in Latvia.
– Brooklynn Rich