Healthcare in Latvia: Does Geography Influence Choices of Diaspora?

Ieva Reine

Access to healthcare is an important aspect of well-being and security for everyone, regardless of gender, age, income level, language of communication, country of origin and current country of residence. Recent research by Latvian scientists shows that, issues related to health care and social security have risen in the hierarchy of interests and concerns of Latvian diaspora. The issue of health care includes determining which health services will be available to those living outside Latvia, and who will pay for them. Moreover, the quality of health services, their availability, etc.  may also determine whether a choice will be made in favour of or against  return migration

This study includes groups of respondents who answered questions about health care on a rotating basis. In the study, mainly 1395 out of 6242 respondents living outside Latvia were used, and as in many other studies, including other diaspora surveys, the proportion of women was higher than the proportion of male participants.

The highest total number of Latvian health care service recipients in the last 5 years was from the Latvian diaspora in Great Britain, Germany, USA and Ireland. However, these are not the countries where Latvian nationals living in a higher proportion would make more proportionate use of opportunities to receive medical care in Latvia. Residents in other welfare countries such as Norway, Denmark, Austria etc. are among those using somewhat more Latvian health care. Luxembourg also has a higher share of Latvian health care users. Countries such as Malta, Poland, Czech Republic and Iceland rank among the countries where the demand for health care in Latvia is significantly higher than the average. However, the geographical proximity does not reflect the tendency to receive health care services in Latvia, as such neighbouring countries as Estonia, Lithuania and Russia, are still well below the average (1.5%) in the group of countries included. As expected, Latvians living in USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand use health care services in Latvia relatively little, while China deserves special mention against the background of all other countries with more than 12,9% being health care recipients in Latvia.

A total of 364 respondents chose to answer questions related to problems in receiving health care services in their home countries. This might have directly or indirectly contributed to the frequency and duration of the trips to Latvia for a sample of 165 respondents who had received health care in Latvia during the last five years. From the in-depth interviews, a number of health care services in the home countries were assessed as inaccessible/non-existent or of insufficient quality.

The results of this study show that there are certain diaspora segments for which the Latvian health care system may seem more accessible both practically and financially, than that obtainable in host countries. Moreover, it is also more convenient communicatively and socio-culturally. Geographical distance is less important within Europe for receiving health care in Latvia. As the results of this research show, the opportunities to receive preventive examinations, specialist and family doctor consultations, favour closer connections with Latvia their country of origin.