Europeans are healthier and live longer, for now

Higher life expectancy but a trend reversal expected. Lights and shadows: alcoholism, accidents and poverty

The latest report on Health in European countries, published a few days ago by the regional Office for Europe of the World Health Organization (EUWHO) highlights unfulfilled goals. The report, published every three years, monitors the progress of European health policies adopted by 53 Member Countries in 2012 towards the six targets of the European policy framework, Health 2020. The health picture it presents is marked by lights and shadows. Positive aspects. Europeans live longer compared to the past and their life expectancy continues to increase. Moreover, premature mortality (those aged 30 to 70) – caused primarily by cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – have steadily declined between 1998 and 2012, with an average annual rate of 1.8%. According to forecasts, despite a slightly reduced pace (1.5%), this decrease will continue until 2020. Shadows: tobacco and alcohol. The report shows that sadly the trend is expected to reverse in the next generations, with a consequential drop in life expectancy. Also tobacco consumption registers negative and positive trends: according to the latest figures, tobacco and alcohol consumption are among the major risk factors for premature mortality. In the fight against this harmful practice, the greatest successes were recorded in Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. In these same countries, progress was made also in reducing alcohol consumption. So there is room for a smile of relief. But it’s short-lived: figures show that the European Region has the highest levels of alcohol consumption and tobacco use in the world. Worse still, the percentage of obese people appears to be increasing. Mortality due to “external causes”. As regards mortality for “external causes” (notably car accidents and suicides), the most significant declines were recorded in Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Russia. The latter, in particular, has the merit of having reduced road deaths by over 20% over the last 10 years thanks to improved road infrastructure and stricter controls and widespread attention, thereby ensuring compliance with the traffic regulations. This is a positive figure, although it should be considered that the country started from a tragic situation. Infant mortality. The EUWHO Report shows that health, economic and social conditions vary across the 53 European countries surveyed. For example, as regards infant mortality, differences between countries persist, amounting to 20 deaths per 1000 live births signalling a gap between Countries with higher and lower infant mortality rates. But this figure is to be viewed within an overall improved picture at European level. Vaccination disparities. Another example of differences in the quality and implementation of health services in European countries involves vaccinations. It should be said that in Europe vaccination rates are rather high compared to other world regions, (in 2012, 95.2% vaccinated against polio and 94.6% received measles vaccination) with upward trends. However, it remains slightly below the minimum threshold (estimated at 96%) to ensure the protection of the entire community. In fact, there remain areas with low vaccination coverage rates, which favour the endemic transmission of certain infectious diseases. In recent years, for example, there have been several outbreaks of measles and rubella and, this year, have been reported four deaths from measles and one – the first in the last thirty years – from diphtheria. Commenting on the findings, the report notes that the different levels of immunization coverage are not only linked to the economic situation and welfare levels in the various countries; they are also the result of gross misinformation, that “leaves a mark” even in the most advanced countries. Poverty risk. Inequality gaps are even greater in the field of the economy, the Report shows. For example, in only 12 countries out of 53, individual citizens’ health expenditure amounts to less 15% of the total amount. This means that in the remaining 41 Countries many people risk falling into a state of poverty, and are unable to access appropriate treatment if they contract a disease with high health costs.

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