Country profile

The Republic of Latvia lies in the Baltic region in the north of Europe. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Latvia became a democratic republic. The population counts around 1.9 million people, making Latvia one of the least populated countries in Europe. In 2004 Latvia joined the European Union, and underwent substantial growth. However, the economy stagnated during the financial crisis in 2008, and poverty in Latvia is still extensive with an increasing degree of income inequality. Average life expectancy in 2015  was 74.8 years.  There are huge gaps in life expectancy by sex and socioeconomic status. Latvian women can expect to live on average nearly ten years more than men. The gap in life expectancy at age 25 between Latvians with the lowest and highest level of education is also ten years. These health inequalities are mainly due to higher prevalence of risk factors, particularly smoking and harmful alcohol consumption, among men and people with low education or income.

In 2009, Latvia was divided into 109 municipalities and nine cities, together forming 118 administrative divisions. To promote a balanced development across these divisions, five planning regions are charged with coordinating action across the borders. The Latvian health system is underfunded. In 2015, Latvia spent EUR 1 071 per capita on health, the second lowest level in the EU, accounting for only 5.8% of GDP compared with an EU average of 9.9%. Only 57% of health spending is publicly funded, with most of the remaining spending paid directly out of pocket by households, raising severe accessibility issues. The Latvian healthcare system receives one of the worst rankings in Europe. Significant challenges to achieving an effective healthcare system are corruption and a loss of qualified labor to other European countries. Latvia is dealing with severe public health issues, including a high rate of HIV, alcohol abuse and one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

 

Policy responses

The issue of health inequalities is present on the Latvian political agenda, and the engagement of the Government in tackling the problem is demonstrated by the active participation of Latvian representatives in the EU Expert Group on the Social Determinants and Health Inequalities, as well as in the Joint Action on Health Inequalities. The work carried out by WHO and the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health constitute important reference models, and the EC Communication of 2009 has certainly had important effects in improving the quality of the new policy documents produced by the Latvian government to address health inequalities. Cross-government collaboration is also in place, especially with sectors such as welfare, education, and, to a certain extent, environment.

As a result of the economic crisis attention on the issue of health inequalities has increased, since more and more people are economically affected. However, the current economic situation also affects the overall budget, imposing cuts that hinder the implementation of the measures to tackle health inequalities, despite the presence of monitoring and evaluation plans.

An overview of policy responses addressing health inequalities in can be found in our Policy Database.

 

Good practices

An overview of projects and initiatives that are currently taking place or that have successfully been finalized, and that are addressing health inequality issues, can be found in our Project Database.

Key actors

Please find below an overview of key actors in Latvia working on health inequality issues:

 

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Key resources

Please find below an overview of relevant documents addressing health inequality issues in Latvia. Further publications can be found in our Publications Database.

 

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