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Sweden is a Scandinavian country located in Northern Europe, with a population of approximately 9.6 million people. The country is considered to be the third-largest in the European Union by size, and its population density is very low with more people in the South than in the North. Swedens total nominal GDP stands at over $550 billion, making it the fourth most competitive country in the world with regards to economic muscle (Anell, Anna & Sherry, 2012). The country's HDI (Human Development Index) is among the world's highest at 0.92, and the life expectancy here is also among the highest in the world. With regards to wealth distribution, the country has the lowest Gini coefficients for income distribution and yet a relatively higher than the European average for wealth distribution. This implies a significant inequality in terms of wealth distribution in the country. With regards to the population, the country has relatively high numbers of immigrants and there is socio-political inequality. The government however spends about 27.3% of the total GDP in public social spending with 10% going to the health sector. The country has the third-lowest recorded infant mortality rates and is thus one of the safest countries to have children in the world. Considering how impressive this country records are, one would expect a near-perfect health sector with absolute efficiency and impeccable service delivery. The country however does have some problems in the health sector, especially with the wealth distribution disparities that take a toll on the quality of services available for individuals. This paper examines Sweden's global health systems, factors affecting these systems, health disparities that are problematic in the country's health care system, possible solutions, and the current efforts in dealing with these problems to provide better quality health care.
Global Health Systems
Different people have defined the global health system differently. Global health basically implies an international perspective of public health, typically aiming at the promotion of health and prevention of all types of diseases across the world's populations and not just within the confines of national boundaries. This implies a worldwide drive to improve the health of the people, reduce or eliminate the disparities that cause most health problems in varying populations, and protect all humans from global threats in terms of health matters (Bibbee & Falvio, 2006). One of the most thorough definitions of global health systems from this perspective would thus be a constellation of actors whose primary purpose is to promote, restore, or maintain health, and persistent and connected sets of rules that prescribe behavioral roles, constrain activity and shape expectations among the actors.
With this in mind, the global health system can be perceived as a framework that includes policy formulation and execution with equal emphasis on both aspects. Global health is not only a concern of the public health sector but of the private as well. The subject incorporates governments, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and the world population as a whole, among other stakeholders. This means that while global health systems are largely confined to governments and health sector stakeholders, it goes beyond these constraints to politicians and citizens alike.
Health is a pivotal part of human existence, and this implies that it is interconnected in one way or another with every other aspect of our existence (Anell, Anna & Sherry, 2012). In that regard, the global health system in Sweden will be examined in a wide scope to cover every relevant factor affecting the system. As a highly developed nation, Sweden can be considered a model case on which the developed world can be rated in terms of its commitment to global health. While global health is an international perspective on public health, the local initiatives provide building blocks to international success and thus countries have to strive to be health hubs for their populations before venturing out to rescue other less developed countries.
Factors Affecting Global Health Systems in Sweden
Sweden is a relatively small country about its population. The country has less than 10 million inhabitants, with a nominal GDP of over $550 billion (Ghent, 2010). This makes Sweden very wealthy among nations. While the country is large in size, the small population implies a low population density. Global Health Systems as a derivative of local health systems is largely affected by issues of financing, accessibility, affordability, and natural factors such as ethnic characters and cultural practices that may put an individual at a disadvantage in terms of their health. To understand these issues, they are discussed below as economy, population, wealth distribution, and immigration.
The most fundamental requirement for a functional and effective health system is funding. Countries with a poor economy tend to be unable to provide their citizens with adequate health care opportunities. This often leaves a gap in the country's health sector, as the private sector is barely capable of sustaining the populations. Also, the fact that the economy is bad implies that the cost of running a business is also high. This means that the private sector runs high operational costs in the health services sector and is thus forced to charge the patients highly. Also, a poor economy implies low purchasing power parity, making the health services a reserve of the middle and high-income earners in the society. A country with a good economy on the other hand can fund a good portion of the public health care sector, and the private sector is also thriving. This means that health care services are not only accessible but also largely affordable to the citizens.
Sweden, along with other countries in the European Union, can be considered as a highly industrialized nation with high dependence on the industrial sector. The agricultural sector accounts for less than 2% of this country's output as an economic hub (Larson, 2008). This however does not hurt the country's economy, given that the industrial products have a steady global market and require consistent labor. The country thus continues earning from international trade while the citizens are employed.
The stable economy of this nation is a positive factor in terms of global health systems. To create a healthy international community, local populations must be healthy. In this sense, nations have to be able to provide good health services for their citizens if the world is to be a healthy place. Swedens health care sector shows an extensive partnership between the public and private sectors. The government spends 10% of the GDP on this sector, and the private sector is also well committed to providing impeccable services to the populations (Larson, 2008).
A thriving economy implies healthy people in terms of their ability to access health facilities at a reasonable cost. Sweden is a healthy nation, given that the government invests heavily in the health sector to ensure that the 9.6 million citizens are given the best quality of healthcare that is available within the nation (Ghent, 2010).
The population of a country determines if the government can provide adequate healthcare. Governments should be able to sustain their populations and provide them with basic needs like food, safe water, health care, and education, among other things. To do this, governments need to have money and land, among other things. Also, the people need to be distributed evenly within the country's borders to ensure equitable distribution of resources and facilities. The swedens population stands at about 9.6 million people. The country has a very large geographical area and a very high total nominal GDP. This means that the country is not only wealthy in terms of the economy but also inland. As a result, the country's population is greatly dispersed with less than 100 inhabitants per square mile (Ghent, 2010). This scattered distribution of the population implies that the people have to travel long distances to access health facilities, or the health sector has to invest in multiple locations to serve the few citizens within that location.
Also, the population is more concentrated in the South, leaving the North very deserted. As a result, the health facilities are concentrated in the South, leaving the people in the North with very little medical attention. Another notable aspect of the Swedish population is that there are far too many people in the urban and metropolitan areas than in the rural areas, thus the need to concentrate health facilities in these areas, leaving the rural dwellers with limited access to healthcare. This is one cause of the health disparities in Sweden, as some people are near health facilities, while others are too far away.
3. Wealth Distribution
In most instances, public health is left for the government to handle. The private sector often leaves the government to take responsibility for the health of the general public, with the private sector only considering it as a business venture. The health sector is however more likely to be successful if the private sector engages the government in all stages. These start from policy-making and end with implementation and regulation, both as a partner and as an interested stakeholder with the interest of the public at heart. The private sector is thus one that has over the years participated in the health sector as a business, often charging steep fees for the health care services provided. This makes affordability a question.
For a country to boast of an equitable public health services sector, the population must be able to access health care from any health care provider at affordable fees. The government however does not have control over all the health facilities. This means that the private health care service providers are in charge of their own businesses and are thus capable of setting high fees that may not be affordable to some citizens.
Wealth distribution is largely about the gap between the rich and the poor in a society. If the gap is high, the poor cannot afford the kind of services that are meant for the rich. In health care, the poor citizens are unable to access the health facilities that have been specifically created for the rich. These facilities are often provided with the best quality equipment and personnel, thus making them privileged zones. The result here is that while the rich people are given the best in healthcare services based on what they can afford, the poor are suffering and waiting on the government to provide the same quality of facilities and personnel in the public health care centers. In a country with equal wealth distribution, the disparity in quality of services and facilities can be barely felt between public and private health care units. This leaves very little room for overcharging in private units.
Sweden has a highly unequal wealth distribution with the Gini coefficient being higher than the European average of 0.8 (Lofgren, 2002). This means that the poor members of the population are in some way discriminated against in terms of the quality of health services offered by the public and private sectors. This leaves it up to the government to either upgrade the public health care facilities or regulate the pricing in the private health sector. According to Lofgren (2002), Sweden's government has taken up an upgrading approach as the country currently spends 10% of the GDP in the public health sector to ensure that unequal wealth distribution does not severely affect the health of the nation.
While countries may be able to sustain their populations, immigration disrupts by increasing the population and thus the dependants on the government's expenditure in public health. Immigration also introduces new demographics into the country, often with health complications and uniqueness that require close examination. Sweden has a high number of immigrants each year and the country's population consists of a significant number of first and second-generation immigrants who make up a great part of the labor force and working-class (Bibbee & Falvio, 2006). Immigration plays a great role in global health from a national perspective by impacting the government's ability to cater to its citizens and also changing the country's demographics to include new cases in the prevalence of certain diseases and patient history.
Health Disparities in Sweden
As a large nation with relatively few people, Sweden encounters several health disparities that cause problems in its global health system. These disparities are evident in the prevalence of lifestyle diseases, communicable diseases, and genetic diseases.
1. Wealth Distribution
In Sweden, there are rich people and poor people. The middle class is relatively insignificant in this country. This means that some are very rich, and then those who are very poor. As a result, there are two types of health care challenges about social or financial status. The extremely poor are exposed to lifestyle diseases that are associated with bad habits such as drug abuse, poor diets, lack of sleep, excess work, too much stress, and poor sanitation, among other things. The extremely rich on the other hand are plagued with health problems that stem from bad eating habits, too much stress, physical inactivity, inadequate sleep, and drug abuse as well. Both sides of the wealth distribution disparity present similar challenges to the health of an individual, but each requires a different approach based on the underlying circumstances that created it. This means that nation has to expand its global health systems framework and guidelines to accommodate a variety of approaches in countering the health problems of both economic extremes.
Sweden is comprised largely of different ethnic groups that include people from Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Yugoslavian, and Iranian ancestries, among others. This provides a very large variety of ethnicities to study and understand to adapt relevant health care measures. Each ethnic community has its own set of unique traits and practices that make them prone to some diseases and lifestyle conditions. Ethnicity is thus one discrepancy that plays a major role in the health status of the country. While the majority and original inhabitants are purely Swedish, the population has grown drastically over the years with the immigration waves accommodating a large diversity. The country thus has to move on as well and create measures to address ethnicity in health care.
3. Population Distribution
A majority of the Swedish population is located in the urban and metropolitan areas of the country, mostly in the South. This uneven distribution of people implies that the health facilities are likely to be concentrated in some areas while others are left without healthcare. This means that the people in congested areas may not be able to get adequate medical attention due to their large numbers, or those in the deserted areas may be forgotten in the provision of healthcare services and facilities, thus exposing them to a lack of these amenities. In some cases, the local populations in the northern parts of the country are unable to access medical services because they are too far from the nearest facility.
To curb the disparities created by wealth distribution, the government through collaboration with healthcare providers has to ensure that treatment is accorded correctly in terms of lifestyle diseases. The diagnoses must be accurate too to avoid wasting resources on wrong cases. Mass awareness must also be created for better and healthier living habits to ensure that the population stays healthy (Evans, 2001). The government should also work towards evening the wealth distribution by bridging the gap between the rich and the poor to at least increase the middle-class populations and reduce the number of the poor.
Anti-immigration laws will only give rise to illegal immigrants. Instead of prohibiting immigration, the government in conjunction with the health sector stakeholders should come up with mechanisms through which these immigrant populations can be studied to enable evidence-based practice in their health care provision (Evans, 2001). As opposed to watching and waiting or making assumptions, they need to be provided with accurate treatment and thus they should be understood in terms of their cultural practices and living conditions. With regards to population distribution, the government should encourage the citizens to live in rural areas as well. This will lighten the burden on the urban and metropolitan areas and also allow for a more equitable distribution of resources and facilities.
Currently, the Swedish government operates the health sector in a decentralized system in which the governments in their various capacities are responsible for the health sectors within their jurisdictions. This allows for better management and takes away the groundwork to the people on the ground, leaving the central government with policy-making among other more bureaucratic roles.
Also, the government has partnered with the private sector to cater to the population adequately and indiscriminately through health care policies and regulations aimed at promoting equality in the health care sector. Concerning the wealth distribution issue, the government is spending more money on upgrading the public health sector to match the private sector so that the less fortunate can also access good quality facilities for health care.
Sweden is generally a wealthy nation, with a relatively small population and an impressive total nominal GDP. The country has also invested in healthcare and spends up to 10% of its GDP in the public health sector. As a result, healthcare in Sweden is considered among the world's best. However, the disparities created by uneven wealth distribution, immigration, and population distribution threaten this reputation by putting some sections of the population at risk based on their inability to access adequate and accurate healthcare. To avoid this, the government has to deal with the disparities in such a way that the country's population can have the same quality of adequate and accurate healthcare within their reach. This is achievable, and the Swedish government is already embarked on the journey to success with its commitment to improving public healthcare through sufficient and consistent funding. Sweden can thus be considered as the world's best location for the global health systems given that the country is committed to creating a healthy local population.
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