The Uruguayan Constitution mandates that the State legislate all health- and public-hygiene-related issues and provide prevention and care services free of charge only to the indigent population and people who cannot afford them. The Ministry of Public Health (MPH) is the agency responsible for setting standards and regulating the health sector, developing prevention programs, and administering assistance.
The Uruguayan economy is based on the production and export of primary goods, especially livestock. This makes it very vulnerable to the subregional context and very exposed to the world market. The performance of the Uruguayan economy over the last 50 years has been modest: the real GDP growth rate between 1960 and 2004 was 1.9%, while the world average was 3.7%. After the economic and financial crisis of 2002, the country entered a growth phase in mid-2004.
Health services coverage among the total population is 43% for the public sector and 46% for the private sector (approximately 10% has no formal coverage), while the public sector accounts for 25% of the total health expenditure and the private sector, 75%.
The current government, which came to power in March 2005, has proposed a reform of the health sector with a view to achieving universal coverage with equity. Its linchpins are: a) the creation of an integrated national health system; b) the transfer of MPH health services to an autonomous agency; and c) the creation of a national health fund.
Uruguay has an aging population; 3.2% of the total population is aged 80 or older. Chronic noncommunicable diseases account for 70% of deaths and 60% of the country’s total health care expenditures. A 2006 survey found that among the adult population aged 25 to 64, 60% was obese, 34% had high blood pressure, 33% had high cholesterol, 38% had sedentary lifestyles, 31% were smokers, and 7% were diabetics. Consequently, only 1 in every 100 adults in this age group has none of these problems.