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International Friday, 4 December, 1998, 14:12 GMT
Health in Europe: an overview
The gap between rich and poor in Europe is widening
The biggest threat to the health of Europe's 870 million people comes from smoking and poverty, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In its Health for all report, it says: "Poverty is the biggest risk factor for health."

Smoking, which is strongly related to poverty, is also a huge threat to health.

Tobacco accounts for 14% of deaths across the 51 countries of Europe.

It is estimated to cost an estimated $100bn a year to treat.

Tobacco is a big factor in many deaths from cancer, heart disease and other respiratory problems.

Heart disease is the biggest killer throughout the region.

Health gap

The WHO says reducing the gap between east and west Europe represent a big challenge for the region.

One third of the population of eastern Europe - some 120 million people - live in extreme poverty.

Infant mortality ranges widely across Europe, from three in every 1,000 births to 43.

Smoking is one of Europe's biggest health threats
There are also huge differences in life expectancy, ranging from 79 to 64 years.

The WHO says many of the region's health inequalities begin in the womb or in early childhood.

A mother who eats poorly and smokes, for example, can have a big influence the future health of her child.

Smoking leads to low birthweight children which is a risk factor for infant mortality and future heart disease.

Therefore, health programmes should target the young and pregnant mothers, says the WHO.

It also recommends increasing educational opportunities for all, and especially for women in the region.

Education is strongly linked to deprivation, it says.

Violence and disease

Other health problems include mental health, which accounts for around 10% of European countries' health budgets.

Around two million Europeans - mainly from the east and south of the region - use illegal drugs, increasing the risk of passing on potentially fatal diseases such as hepatitis and Aids.

Violence, often linked to alcohol, accounts for over one million deaths of young Europeans a year.

And then there are newly emerging diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and syphillis, linked to increasing health gaps between rich and poor.

The number of syphillis cases in eastern Europe has shot up from 25 to 225 per 100,000 between 1990 and 1996, while it has remained stable in the west.

Mental health accounts for 10% of Europe's health budget
The WHO favours an "integrated approach" to healthcare across the region, but says this should not be "a straitjacket".

Its targets for improving health are meant as "an inspirational guide".

The European Commission is promoting greater integration of public health policies across its member states.

It currently has programmes covering health promotion, cancer, tobacco, Aids, drug abue, health monitoring and pollution-related disease and is working on projects covering injury prevention and rare diseases.

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