The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Report praises progress in health sector but obesity still massive problem

Julian Bonnici Tuesday, 28 February 2017, 16:11 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Health Systems in transition (HiT) review praised government's ability to vastly improve the health care sector but maintained that sustainability, obesity  (of which Malta is the highest in Europe), diabetes and HIV remain principal issues in the industry's development.

The HiT series consists of country-based reviews that provide a detailed description of a health system and of reform and policy initiatives in progress or under development in a specific country.

The study is done in conjunction with The European Observatory, an independent intergovernmental partnership, hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and has been conducted in Malta on three seperate occassions 1999, 2014, and 2016.

Health Minister Chris Fearne praised the "remarkable progress" in the health sector which the report puts down to he current administration's commitment to increasing government spending in the health sector with a 12.5% increase in 2016 and a further 11.4% in the budget for 2017.

However, it does warn that escalating costs must be addressed within the next five year in order for the health system to continue "to expand to meet its obligations and respond to increasing demand in a manner that is sustainable over time".

On the controversial public-private partnership contracts with Vitals Global Healthcare with three existing hospitals (Gozo General Hospital, Karin Grech Geriatric Hospital, and St.Luke's Hospital)  the report says that this new development is "expected to play an important role within the Maltese health system by attracting international patients".

However, "its impact on equity and health expenditure needs close monitoring over the coming months and years".

The study also revealed that in spite of the Maltese health care system offering universal coverage, people visit private care providers (who take up around two-thirds of the workload).

It read that the further strengthening of the primary health (such as the facility in the Southern Harbour Area) and mental health sector is a "vital objective" and will make an "important contribution" to the health system.

The report also praised the government's intent to implement a renewed e-health strategy.

In its conclusions, the report said that health behaviours such as obesity, binge drinking, smoking (but has decreased over the years), poor health behaviours among lower socio-economic groups, and frailty in aging, remain areas of concern compared to other EU countries.

For example, 25% of the adult population are obese, whereas 27% of children between the ages of 11 and 15 are obese.

The challenges, according to the review, which the health system faces are the increasing diverse population, the growing population, the redistribution of resources from hospital to primary care, ensuring innovative expensive medicines while remaining efficient, and financial sustainability.

The review revealed that life expectancy in Malta is higher than the EU average with men living till an average of  79.8 years (in comparison with 78.1 for the EU) and women living till 84.3 years (in comparison to 83.3 years for the EU).

Maltese people also spend an average of close to 90% of their lifespan in good health, and have the lowest rates of preventable mortality in the EU.

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