European Review

Focus: Health in Europe

The East–West Health Divide in Europe: Growing and Shifting Eastwards

Denny Vågeröa1

a1 Centre for Health Equity Studies, CHESS, Stockholm University/Karolinska Institutet, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden and SCOHOST, Södertön University College, Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail:


Over a four-decade long period, a health gap has opened up between European countries, in particular along the East/West dimension. One could speak of a European health divide. The divide is growing larger and, at the same time, shifting eastwards, leaving countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova at an increasing health disadvantage. Health inequalities, or differences between social classes, within European countries also seem to have been growing for the last couple of decades. Those countries that were previously led by communist regimes today show larger health inequalities than do countries in Western Europe. The countries that were once part of the Soviet Union demonstrate the most alarming health trends, with large segments of the population actually experiencing falling life expectancies. Reducing global and European health inequalities so that the health chances of a newborn child are not dependent on which country and social class he or she is born in, is a truly formidable task, which implies an entirely new way of seeing human development.