Latvia launches new public health strategy

Ministry of Health, Latvia

Latvia has launched a new public health strategy for 2011–2017 in partnership with WHO/Europe. The strategy was launched and discussed at a Better Health for All in Latvia conference in Riga this week.

Addressing the conference, WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab assured Latvia that WHO would continue to support and partner with the government in developing and implementing the strategy, which includes a renewed emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion as well as addressing inequity in health.

“To achieve better health for all in Latvia, health and well-being need to be considered as part of a whole-of-government approach and become central to the country’s overall development,” Zsuzsanna Jakab said. She applauded the government’s efforts and commitments to strengthen public health and address inequity in health through multiple stakeholders.

Zsuzsanna Jakab also held meetings with Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and other ministers at the National Development Board, during which she emphasized the need for increasing investment in public health. WHO studies show that insufficient public health spending increases out-of-pocket payments and results in impoverishing large parts of the population.

Health indicators in Latvia have started to improve in recent years due to well-planned and carefully implemented government policies. However, the indicators as well as public health expenditure are still lower than they should be. In September 2010, WHO experts spoke at the Latvian parliament on the health-budget challenges facing the country because of the economic crisis.

The Regional Director thanked the Prime Minister for his political commitment to public health and requested him to assist WHO in convincing other prime ministers and finance ministers to continue to invest in health in the face of economic recession and increasing health care costs across Europe.

President Valdis Zatlers and Minister of Health Juris Bārzdiņs opened the conference, and about 400 delegates attended, including representatives of ministries, health care funding agencies, hospitals, professional associations and academic institutions in Latvia.

The participants discussed various aspects of the new strategy, including how to better promote healthy lifestyles and why investing in other sectors is so crucial. Doctors, politicians, heads of municipalities and other professionals shared their views on how to motivate children to be healthy, make health information more attractive, make healthy lifestyles part of business and include health in all policies.