Why Belgium is world's healthiest nation

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

You'd never think it, judging by the number of frites that are consumed, but Belgium has been revealed as the world's healthiest country. Michael Standaert finds out why.

The UK business intelligence provider, World Markets Research Centre, recently conducted a study of the health of nations, and Belgium topped the 175-country list with 98 points.

The study looked at things such as the health service - in terms of expenditure - and the outcomes, such as life expectancy and mortality rates.

"Our survey shows that Belgium - a high-income country with a small population - has taken its health seriously for some time," said WMRC Healthcare Research Manager, Michelle Perkins.

Private and state

Dr Marit Storset, a Norwegian general practice physician who has worked in Brussels since 1978 as well as for three years in Norway and Sweden, agrees with the findings.

"They are much more efficient here," Storset said of Belgium. "One of the best things is how state and private health care work together. For example, when I need to send a patient to a specialist I can do it almost right away, depending on the severity of the case. It wouldn't be that way in Sweden or Norway - there would be much longer waits."

Also heading the list closely behind Belgium were Iceland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden - all scoring above 95. Sierra Leone, burdened under decades of war, poverty and disease, was the least healthy. While in Belgium life expectancy is 77.05 years (according to the latest World Health Organisation measure), life expectancy in many African states has now fallen below 30.

"Health care demand will always outstrip delivery, but at least those countries in the top categories are generally able to continue investing in developing services" Perkins said.

"This luxury is by no means afforded to the majority of nations analysed in this survey. Since many of the lower-ranked countries are struggling to even keep up with basic recurrent costs, let alone fund healthcare development, the gap between the healthiest and the sickliest is only likely to escalate further."

Doctors and patients

One of the major problems with health care in other countries that Storset does not find in Belgium is that establishing a long-term relationship with patients is much easier.

"In many countries the patients are shuffled around from one doctor to another. Here they make attempts to have people choose one doctor whom they see on a more regular basis and can gain trust in. The advantage is that I, as a doctor, feel useful. Doctors in many other places are often pushed into many different things they really don't want to do."

Prevention and cure

According to the survey, the United States ranks in the A level for average health with a score of 93.4, while the United Kingdom slipped into the B level with an 89.6 mark, "despite the (UK) government's pledge for reform," Perkins says. "Continental levels of health and healthcare are unlikely to be reached until the end of this decade at the earliest."

"It is interesting to note that those countries with the highest healthcare expenditure are not necessarily the healthiest," Perkins says.

"The main reason for this is that they tend to adopt a 'we can buy the cure' attitude, as opposed to concentrating on preventing the ailment in the first instance. The prime example of this is the US, where the vast amounts of cash injected into the latest drug developments and pharmaceutical technology fail to be reflected in the overall health of the nation."

Storset also said this was one of the reasons Belgium is highest on the list - it tends to take a more preventative approach to treating patients instead of waiting until they are very sick. "I'm better able to impart knowledge to patients in order to be proactive than I think I would be in other places."

Asked if certain factors such as suicide rates, mental health, pollution, drinking and smoking-related deaths and other ailments of post-modern industrial-technological societies were factored into the study, WMRC's specialist on Belgium, Jelena Markovic, says: "In short, no. We looked at 12 indicators across a wide spectrum, covering factors such as infant and maternal mortality rates, immunisation rates, and comparing those with health care expenditures, in which these factors would be covered on a broad scale."

Austria and Sweden - all scoring above 95. Sierra Leone, burdened under decades of war, poverty and disease, was the least healthy. While in Belgium life expectancy is 77.05 years (according to the latest World Health Organisation measure), life expectancy in many African states has now fallen below 30.

"Health care demand will always outstrip delivery, but at least those countries in the top categories are generally able to continue investing in developing services" Perkins said.

"This luxury is by no means afforded to the majority of nations analysed in this survey. Since many of the lower-ranked countries are struggling to even keep up with basic recurrent costs, let alone fund healthcare development, the gap between the healthiest and the sickliest is only likely to escalate further."

Doctors and patients

One of the major problems with health care in other countries that Storset does not find in Belgium is that establishing a long-term relationship with patients is much easier.

"In many countries the patients are shuffled around from one doctor to another. Here they make attempts to have people choose one doctor whom they see on a more regular basis and can gain trust in. The advantage is that I, as a doctor, feel useful. Doctors in many other places are often pushed into many different things they really don't want to do."

Prevention and cure

According to the survey, the United States ranks in the A level for average health with a score of 93.4, while the United Kingdom slipped into the B level with an 89.6 mark, "despite the (UK) government's pledge for reform," Perkins says. "Continental levels of health and healthcare are unlikely to be reached until the end of this decade at the earliest."

"It is interesting to note that those countries with the highest healthcare expenditure are not necessarily the healthiest," Perkins says.

"The main reason for this is that they tend to adopt a 'we can buy the cure' attitude, as opposed to concentrating on preventing the ailment in the first instance. The prime example of this is the US, where the vast amounts of cash injected into the latest drug developments and pharmaceutical technology fail to be reflected in the overall health of the nation."

Storset also said this was one of the reasons Belgium is highest on the list - it tends to take a more preventative approach to treating patients instead of waiting until they are very sick. "I'm better able to impart knowledge to patients in order to be proactive than I think I would be in other places."

Asked if certain factors such as suicide rates, mental health, pollution, drinking and smoking-related deaths and other ailments of post-modern industrial-technological societies were factored into the study, WMRC's specialist on Belgium, Jelena Markovic, says: "In short, no. We looked at 12 indicators across a wide spectrum, covering factors such as infant and maternal mortality rates, immunisation rates, and comparing those with health care expenditures, in which these factors would be covered on a broad scale."

0 Comments To This Article