Healthcare in Estonia
Estonia is a small country in eastern Europe. Estonia is a former USSR state that gained independence in 1991. As a part of the USSR, Estonia had to rebuild the entire country, including the healthcare system. Healthcare in Estonia has improved since its independence. Though Estonia has come a long way in advancing the quality of its healthcare system, the newly independent country still has a long way to go.

Issues with the Current System

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Estonia is behind in many aspects of the healthcare system in comparison to the European Union counterparts. Estonia spends almost half of the money on healthcare per capita in comparison to the average in other European Union countries. Estonia’s life expectancy is 2.5 years less than the European average. Also, Estonia has a 13% rate of unmet medical needs while the European average is under 3%.

The lack of adequate healthcare funding causes Estonia to have a shortage of nurses, doctors and enough infrastructure to care for patients. The number of doctors and nurses in Estonia decreases every year because they do not get paid enough. According to Politico, Estonia has lost 141.6 doctors and nurses per 100,000 people between 1998 and 2016, the highest percentage in Europe. With a decreasing number of healthcare professionals, a future where citizens cannot receive the care they need seems imminent.

Another issue troubling the healthcare system of Estonia is the unhealthy habits of Estonia’s citizens. Estonia has a sizeable amount of people who are current smokers, alcohol consumers and overweight or obese. According to WHO, 24% of adults in Estonia smoke daily, 23% binge drink and 20% are obese. With the immense number of people with unhealthy habits and a progressing healthcare system, Estonia struggles to adequately care for the large number of people who develop chronic diseases.

Last, Estonia has one of the highest rates of those without long-term health insurance coverage in the European Union. Because so many people in Estonia do not have long-term health insurance, uninsured people do not get the healthcare they need to prevent and treat diseases.

Estonia’s healthcare system impacts the impoverished significantly more than its upper classes. According to WHO, the percentage of low-income Estonians who are in good health is 34% while the middle class is 51% and the high class is 75%. Also, low-income and educated individuals are more likely to binge drink, over twice as likely to smoke and almost 30% more likely to be obese. Lastly, the lowest education and income group in Estonia is about 50% more likely to have chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma and 40% more likely to have hypertension.

Positive Change

Though there are many issues facing healthcare in Estonia, promising developments in the system have been reported. Estonia recently approved a National Health Plan to run from the years 2020 to 2030. The overall goal of this plan is to improve life expectancy and quality of life. The National Health Plan is to implement three plans to improve the quality of healthcare, promote healthy choices and create a healthy environment.

The Estonian government also approved a bill to increase healthcare spending by 180 million euros on top of the normal funding. The government stated that the additional money will “improve the accessibility of healthcare services and the consistency and quality of care.”

With the implementation of a good deal of new legislation in Estonia, healthcare in Estonia has a promising future.

– Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr