Life expectancy in Malta is the second highest among EU countries, but it declined in 2020 as a result of deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic. People spend more time living in good health compared to other EU countries, but rates of obesity are high and pose a major public health challenge.
Malta’s National Health Service provides good access to care, but the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted structural weaknesses in the health sector, including low hospital capacity, insufficient investment in prevention and gaps in the workforce.
Commitments to enhance the use of digital health, ongoing reforms to primary care and investment in physical infrastructure and the health workforce will help to build a more resilient healthcare system.
Malta’s health status
Life expectancy in Malta in 2020 was two years higher than the EU average. While it fell by 0.3 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this was below the average decline of 0.7 years seen across the EU. Deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer have declined substantially in recent decades, but deaths from diabetes remain high. Self-reported good health among the population is high, but sizeable income-based inequalities in health status persist.
Rates of obesity in Malta are the highest in the EU, with more than a quarter of adults classified as obese. Poor diets and physical inactivity contribute to high levels of obesity in the country. Smoking rates among adults are similar to the EU average.
Malta’s health system
Malta has seen one of the largest increases in total health spending in the EU between 2008 and 2018, although expenditure per capita and as a share of GDP remained below the EU average in 2018. The share of funding from public sources also remained relatively low, and private out-of-pocket payments were among the highest in the EU. Public spending on health nevertheless increased substantially during the Covid-19 crisis.
Mortality from preventable causes in Malta is among the lowest in the EU. Deaths from treatable causes have declined in recent years, and are now equal to the EU average. More deaths from cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes could be avoided through more timely and effective diagnosis and treatment.
Malta’s health system provides good access to care, and levels of unmet needs for care were the lowest in the EU in 2019. One in six people reported having forgone care during the Covid-19 pandemic – a share lower than the EU average. Use of e-prescriptions, remote consultations and remote monitoring of Covid-19 patients helped maintain access to care during the pandemic.
Widespread testing and comprehensive public health measures formed central components of Malta’s Covid-19 response. The country’s vaccination programme was also implemented rapidly, and by the end of August 2021, 80% of the population had received two doses (or equivalent) – the highest proportion in the EU at that time.
OECD/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies (2021), Malta: Country Health Profile 2021, State of Health in the EU, OECD Publishing, Paris/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, Brussels.