Health services on alert

European Union enlargement involves considerable challenges for the health sector, not only because of the massive population increase for the EU as a whole, but also because of the great divide between the «old» and the «new» member states. As the EU’s borders move further eastward, it will be easier for economic immigrants to move to greener pastures, putting further burdens on health systems. These and other concerns were the subject of a conference this week held by the National School of Public Health, with the assistance of the Health Ministry and the European Commission. According to Professor Yiannis Kyriopoulos, head of the conference organizing committee, there are three major differences. The first concerns life expectancy and mortality. According to figures for 2001, the average life expectancy in the EU for both men and women is 78.2, four years higher than the corresponding average in the new member states entering in 2004. Of the latter, Malta has the highest life expectancy at 78.1, and Latvia the lowest at 70.7. Mortality rates for cardiovascular disease and cancer in the 15 current member states are also lower. Health services are also quite different. The average duration of hospitalization for serious cases in the current member states is 8.5 days; in the new members it is over 10 days. Expenditure on health in the new member countries is about half of that in the old. Germany spends $2,365 annually per person in the health sector (the highest), compared to $996 per person in Slovenia – the highest among the 10 new members. The socioeconomic divide is also considerable. Among the new members, prosperity and growth indicators are over 50 percent lower than in the old EU member states, with only Cyprus, Slovenia and Malta being anywhere near the level of Greece and Portugal. Enlargement has highlighted the need for a common policy on the prevention and control of infectious diseases and raises questions about the transfer of health professionals and the mutual recognition of degrees in medicine, dentistry and other health fields.

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