Health issues in Belgium and getting help
If you're living in Belgium, find out what healthcare and disease prevention promotions are available to Belgian residents, including required vaccinations.
Both local and foreign residents living in Belgium can access free healthcare measures. In this guide, international health insurer Globality Health explains the latest health issues in Belgium and healthcare options available to residents in Belgium, including vaccinations, 'sugar tax', antibiotic use, e-cigarettes, skin cancer and tanning salons, medicinal cannabis, HIV and AIDS and euthanasia.
Vaccinations in Belgium
In Belgium, various vaccinations against different diseases are recommended but only one – polio – is required by law. There are different vaccination plans in the French-speaking community and the Flemish community in Belgium. So what your child needs depends on where you live.
If you want your child to attend a day care centre or crèche approved by ONE (Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance) you will be asked to have your child vaccinated against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, type b Haemophilus influenzae, measles, rubella (German measles) and mumps. These are free of charge for children between the ages of 2 months and 16 years. Hepatitis B vaccination is free for children up to 12 years old. Vaccinations up to the age of 6 years are organised by ONE. VACC.info has a calendar of recommended vaccinations.
The Flemish organisation Kind & Gezin recommends polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, type b Haemophilus influenzae, hepatitis B, measles, rubella (German measles) and mumps. Here’s a list of vaccinations and ages for the Flemish community.
Over 65s and people with certain conditions can get yearly flu jabs through the health centre.
Antibiotics in Belgium
The over use of antibiotics worldwide has encouraged bacterial resistance to antibiotic drugs and is leading to an increasing number of diseases becoming untreatable. Belgium has one of the highest rates of prescribing antibiotics in Europe (in 2014 it was the 4th biggest prescriber after Greece, Romania and France, prescribing around defined daily doses per 1000 population) There have been government awareness campaigns about overusing antibiotics and the consumption has said to decreased yet there is some doubt about how the figures are reported and some medics claim that antibiotics continue to be over prescribed in Belgium.
Remember: antibiotics have no effect on flu, colds, acute bronchitis or most forms of ear and throat infections because these conditions are caused by viruses – and antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. They are not always necessary even against bacterial infections, as in many situations the body’s own antibodies will eliminate the infection within a few days. Ask the doctor about antibiotics and if you are prescribed them always follow the prescription precisely, finish the course and dispose of any leftover medication.
Smoking and e-cigarettes in Belgium
Smoking has been banned in all public places in Belgium, including cafes, cars and nightclubs (although separate smoking rooms where no food or drink is served are allowed) from 2011. There is no smoking on public transport.
Up until January 2016, it was only possible to buy nicotine-free e-cigarettes in Belgium. Now e-cigarettes containing nicotine (a maximum volume of 2 millilitres of nicotine liquid, with no more than 20 milligrams of nicotine/millilitre) can be sold under the same conditions as tobacco cigarettes, ie, only sold to those over 16 and no advertising outside of newspaper and tobacco shops.
Skin cancer and tanning salons in Belgium
It might be wise to give sunbeds in Belgium a miss as there is almost no regulation of the industry.
Sunbeds give out harmful ultraviolet rays that can damage the DNA in skin cells, which can eventually lead to skin cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer says that there is sufficient evidence to show that using sunbeds causes malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
There are safety regulations governing tanning salons – the intensity of UV lamps, maintenance of lamps and filters, the quality of eye protection – but in Belgium there is almost no official scrutiny to make sure salons adhere to the regulations. Even more worryingly, of the 58 tanning salons that were inspected in 2014 only three were found to be following the official guidelines. The situation is so severe that the Belgian Foundation against Cancer wants to ban tanning salons.
‘Sugar tax’ in Belgium
As from January 2016, the Belgian government introduced a ‘health tax’ on soft drinks and alcohol as part of a National Nutrition Plan in 2012 (each Belgian drinks an average of 108 litres of soda every year). This works out to 0.03 EUR/litre tax on soft drinks (one cent per 33cl can), a standard bottle of wine would increase by 17 cents and a standard bottle of spirits by 2.52 EUR.
However, as the tax also applies to sugar-free drinks, nutritionists are sceptical about the reasoning behind the new tax, believing it to be more about raising funds than public health.
Cannabis for medicinal purposes in Belgium
It is now legal in Belgium to get a prescription for cannabis for medicinal purposes in the form of an oral spray called Sativex. It is used specifically to treat spasticity in multiple sclerosis where other medications have not alleviated symptoms but in the future, cannabis-containing medications may be authorised for other conditions.
HIV and AIDS in Belgium
The AIDS organisation in Belgium is Aide Info Sida. Freephone 0800 20120 Monday to Friday between 6pm and 9pm, for a wide range of information (addresses of screening centres, infection methods and more) as well as offering personalised moral support.
There have been studies in the US, UK and France which show that a pill called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), can give protection against HIV. The first Belgian study at the IMT (Tropical Medicine Institute) is starting the first Belgian research project.
Euthanasia in Belgium
Belgium was the second country in the world to legalise euthanasia (assisted suicide) in 2002. Patients must freely express a wish to die because of intractable and unbearable pain including psychological disorders, or if they have stated that they wish it before entering a coma or vegetative state. Terminally ill children can also request euthanasia if they are near death and in ‘constant and unbearable physical pain’. Parents and three separate doctors have to consent. A doctor must be present until death.
In 2015, 2021 people officially died by euthanasia in Belgium but the real number may be much higher as euthanasia can be under-reported.
Wim Distelmans is the leading name in euthanasia in Belgium and he chairs an organisation called ULteam which deals with euthanasia.
Globality Health / Expatica
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