Estonia's economy suffers poor public health

  • 2006-06-07
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - The poor health of Estonia's population is having a detrimental effect on the national economy, a recent World Health Organization report claimed. On June 5, the WHO released a report entitled "The Economic Consequences of Ill-Health in Estonia," which warns that the nation's current competitive advantage could disappear if improvements are not made.

"A continuation of the current decline in Estonians' health status will severely limit economic growth in the long term," the report's authors said. "The upside of the currently unfavorable status is that there are high returns from investing in health. Improving public health offers a largely untapped opportunity for achieving sustained economic growth in Estonia."
Still, while the nation leads the Baltics in economic growth (see story on Page 8), its citizens are among the unhealthiest in Europe.
Male life expectancy was found to be particularly poor. The risk of death among men aged 26-65 years was three times worse than in Finland.

"The health of the future adult population does not look any brighter in light of recent trends in alcohol and tobacco consumption among Estonian youth," the report continued.
As a result, the working population is more likely to retire earlier, weekly working hours are likely to be reduced, and salaries are affected.
The country's gross domestic product could grow by as much as 14 percent per capita if the adult mortality rate were to decrease by 1.5 percent each year over a 25 year period.
Economist Andres Vork, co-author of the report, said the research shows that health and the economy are not independent of each other.

"Our results bear a simple but fundamental message to policy-makers interested in improving the long-term performance of the Estonian economy. Investing in health can be considered as one important means to achieve just that, on top of being a worthy goal by itself," Vork said.