Latvia steps up efforts to increase cancer screening and influenza vaccination coverage

The WHO Country Office in Latvia regularly collaborates with the Ministry of Health on strategies for early detection and prevention of diseases. Various events organized in recent months within the country have focused particular attention on increasing rates of cancer screening and influenza vaccination.

Campaign to promote cancer screening

Three cancer screening programmes (for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer) have been introduced in Latvia since 2010, however population coverage rates have so far remained low. A social campaign to promote cancer screening was therefore launched on 29 October 2012 by the Minister of Health, Ingrida Circene. The aim of the campaign is to increase coverage by providing targeted information on the importance of screening for early diagnosis of cancer and on how the testing system is organized in Latvia. Information materials, television and radio channels will be used intensively throughout the campaign, which will last to the end of December 2012.

National stakeholders meeting

Barriers within the current cancer screening arrangements and what needs to be done to increase screening coverage were also the main topics of discussion at a national stakeholders meeting on cancer screening programmes organized by the Disease Prevention and Control Center of Latvia on 31 October 2012. About 30 stakeholders, including representatives of nongovernmental organizations, analysed current needs and pointed to quality assurance as one of the key challenges. Based on their analysis, an action plan will be developed and proposed by a working group to be established under the Disease Prevention and Control Center.

The Head of the WHO Country Office in Latvia was invited to the meeting to discuss plans for further collaboration, as part of the biannual collaborative agreement (BCA) for 2012–2013 between WHO/Europe and the Latvian Ministry of Health. National stakeholders expressed appreciation for the continuing technical support provided by WHO/Europe on cancer screening through the current and previous BCAs.

Influenza Forum

An Influenza Forum was convened on 14 November 2012 to discuss the current influenza situation and plans to increase vaccination coverage in certain risk groups. One of these risk groups is the elderly, among whom Latvia has one of the lowest vaccination coverage rates in the European Region, with about 2% vaccinated, while WHO and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) recommend 75% for this age group.

The Forum was organized by the Department of Infectious Diseases of Riga Stradin's University in collaboration with the WHO Country Office and brought together about 30 key national stakeholders, including representatives of the Ministry of Health, academics, hospital managers and infectious diseases experts from Riga and elsewhere.

The Head of the Country Office made a presentation about WHO's position with regards to influenza vaccination. Based on the presentations and discussions, the Forum decided to continue its work in two main directions. Together with the Ministry of Health the group of stakeholders will: 

  • develop guidelines for health care institutions in Latvia based on WHO/ECDC guidelines; 
  • explore possibilities to organize an information campaign to promote influenza vaccination.