Economic Inequality Impacting Health Care in Iceland

Director of Health Alma Möller

According to Director of Health, Alma Möller, Icelandic authorities must tackle economic inequality, as it affects health care outcomes.

In an interview with Heimildin this weekend, Alma said that even if most people imagine there to be equality when it comes to health care in Iceland, the reality is different. “People with an economic disadvantage are more likely to have long-term illnesses that can greatly impact their quality of life and shorten it,” she said.

She added that improving the health of the poor is a task that the health care system can not accomplish alone. “Authorities need to make equality a priority and society as a whole needs to work together,” she said. “Because inequality affects us all.”

Inherited poverty

The Directorate of Health is a government agency that promotes high-quality and safe health care for the people of Iceland, health promotion, and effective disease prevention measures. Alma, the first woman to serve as Director, is therefore a key voice on health care policy in Iceland.

“We need to face this issue and start with the children,” she said. “Nothing is more valuable for communities than to keep children out of poverty. If people start their lives in a tough spot, it’s hard for them to recover. We need to create conditions in society so that people have the opportunity to live a healthy life. Poverty, in fact, is something that people inherit, much like trauma.”

Excess outsourcing

Alma is an anaesthetist and intensive care physician who turned her attention to public health. She became Director in 2018 and was a leading figure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the interview, she went on to warn against excess outsourcing of health care services to private companies that could weaken the core competencies of the Landspítali, The National University Hospital of Iceland. “Decisions on outsourcing must always be made on the basis of patient welfare and the common good,” she said.

Wave of Respiratory Illness in Iceland

COVID-19 vaccine vaccination Iceland

Many people in Iceland are sick with respiratory illnesses and the situation is expected to continue. The peak of infections has not been reached, according to Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund, as fewer people than expected received vaccinations for Covid and influenza this fall. “It’s been Covid, influenza, RSV, and other respiratory infections and viruses,” she told Vísir.

New Covid variant spreads

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified JN.1, an Omicron variant, as a Covid “variant of interest” due to its rapid spread. “Covid is highly infectious and it’s causing illnesses and many people get very sick,” Guðrún said. The symptoms of JN.1 are similar to previous variants, Guðrún added, but there has been no uptick in hospital admissions as a result of this wave.

However, many people have been admitted for other illnesses. “We always have some people admitted with Covid,” Guðrún said. “There’s also been an uptick in admissions where people have influenza or RSV. Especially young children.”

Campaign to get people vaccinated

Guðrún urges people to get vaccinated for influenza and Covid. Health care providers still offer this service and it is strongly recommended for people over 60 years of age. “The participation has unfortunately not been very good this fall, but there was an increase last week when the health care centres campaigned to urge people to come,” Guðrún said.

She added that even though people may have become tired of the discussion about Covid vaccinations, it remains important to get shots. “These are well-researched vaccines that billions of people have used,” Guðrún said. “They’ve been shown to be effective and protect against serious illnesses and deaths.”

Midwives Approve New Contract

The Icelandic Association of Midwives has voted to approve a new employment contract with a 95% majority. RÚV reported first. An overwhelming 91% of members voted on the deal.

When national broadcaster RÚV contacted chairperson of the Association of Midwives Katrín Sif Sigurgeirsdóttir for comment, she had not yet been informed of the outcome of the vote. Katrín expressed dissatisfaction that the government’s negotiation committee would publish the results online without informing the midwives’ negotiation committee first.

“We thought the results would be presented to us at two o’clock,” Katrín stated. “This really is the cherry on top of our relations with the government.”

The contract approval brings to a close a 10-month-long wage dispute between the association and the government. Midwives asserted their salaries did not reflect their level of education or the responsibilities inherent to their profession. Over 20 midwives resigned from their positions, most at the National University Hospital, as a result of the dispute. It remains to be seen whether they will return to their jobs.