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The Launch of Fit for Work Latvia

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

28 March 2012

The Fit for Work project has launched today (28 March 2012) in Riga, Latvia after almost a year’s worth of research into the impact of musculoskeletal disorders on the Latvian labour force. The report was endorsed by Karlis Shadurskis, Member of European Parliament, and the“Fit for Work” project patron in Latvia.

We were delighted to have support and hear from high-profile speakers, including Ingrida Circene, Minister of Health; Ilze Vinkele, Minister of Welfare; Prof. Daina Andersone, Head of Latvian Association for Rheumatologists; Gunta Anca, Head of the Board of the Latvian Umbrella Body for Disability organizations SUSTENTO. The audience also got a chance to learn a success story from neighbouring countries, presented by Algirdas Venalis, Head of Lithuanian Association of Rheumatology.

Although the quality of data on the health of working age population in Latvia has proved to be rather patchy, the Fit for Work research team has found that Latvia ranks third among EU countries for employees’ concerns about the negative impact of work on their health (64 per cent of employees, compared to a 33 per cent European average).

MSDs have a huge impact on the societal level through the rising costs of disability in Latvia. The number of new disability cases resulting from musculo-skeletal disorders ( MSDs) increased from 935 persons in 2004 to 2,600 persons in 2010. At the same time, fewer people with disabilities in Latvia maintain active employment status. As in other FFW countries, it was clear that many of these individuals could return to work with due support from employers and appropriate policies.

Much of the work incapacity in Latvia results from long waiting times to see a specialist consultant, up to 7.7 months for some patients. Although this has improved over the past years, there is considerable variation in access to health care between urban and rural areas. In addition, many Latvian employees delay disclosure of their condition out of fear of losing their jobs: at least 11 per cent of Latvians went to work when ill in 2010. The presentations during the event today has shown that early intervention could significantly reduce the indirect cost of MSDs to Latvian employers and the welfare system in the long run.

Following the discussion on implementing the Fit for Work messages in Latvia, the panel of experts agreed that a National FFW Coalition with a view of developing a National Plan for people with MSDs, would improve access to clinical expertise and tackle the shortage of health care professionals, as well as support phased return to work for people with MSDs. The panel signed a Memorandum of Agreement, outlining the next steps of taking the Fit for Work initiative forward in Latvia, with the next expert meeting taking place in May 2012.

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