Since March 2017, the Municipality of Riga has been implementing a project to reduce health inequalities and improve access to health promotion and disease prevention services for all residents of Latvia, but especially for people at risk of poverty, and territorial and social exclusion. The project is part of the European Social Fund project program under the ‘Measures to promote local public health and disease prevention’ (measure 188.8.131.52.).
By N.Tilgale – Platace, Riga city council Welfare department, project coordinator
Riga City is the capital of Latvia and its most populous city. It is also the home of ‘We are for a healthy Riga!’, a 3.5 million euro European Social Fund programme. The main priority areas for the Project cardiovascular and oncological diseases, mental health, and the health of children starting from the perinatal periods – also the most urgent public health problems in the country. As part of the project, Riga City Council Welfare Department will implement more than 30 different activities, providing citizens with an opportunity to visit around 600 free health promoting activities each month and reaching 3000 people monthly. The main target groups of the project are children, persons over 54, people with disabilities, unemployed people, and people from social groups at high risk. The project intends to carry out activities as close as possible to place of residence of the main target groups.
Since last year more than 20,000 people have already taken part in one of the free activities offered by the Project. The feedback received from the public allows us to conclude that the skills and knowledge acquired during the classes will encourage the citizens to continue to address their concerns about their health and improve the overall public health situation in the city.
- The promotion of physical activity in everyday life such as Nordic walking, pregnant women’s gymnastics, outdoor gymnastics, gymnastics for scholars, etc.
- Public awareness events including healthy lifestyle days, seminars on various health promotion topics, etc.
- Mental health promotion activities such as public lectures, workshops for specific target groups.
- Social skills development programs including camps for children and young people from social groups at high risk, healthy nutrition classes for children at high risk.
- Healthy nutritional and personal hygiene training (including oral health) for preschool children, disease prevention and free cholesterol and glucose tests.
A project of this type and scope which directly aims to promote local public health and reduce the risk of disease in Latvia is being implemented for the first time within the framework of the European Social Fund, which is somewhat unusual – few similar projects exist under that framework.
The activities planned in the project are based on good practice, and on what has already proved successful and is in demand in the municipality. For example, while the municipality has been implementing the Nordic walking groups since 2009, ESF funding provides the opportunity to implement the requested activity on a larger scale and provide access to 16 places within the local government area, providing accessibility to health promotion activities to the local population.
Now after a year of implementation, the Municipality has accumulated unique experience and knowledge, and has gained valuable understanding about the changing trends in public health promotion activities. According to the most well-attended events in the project, the most popular activities relate to the promotion of mental health, the improvement of psycho-emotional well-being, and the reduction of stress.
The funding has also provided the opportunity to implement unique activities the municipality – such as the ‘children overweight program’, which includes a complex approach to reduce the overweight among children by involving a team of specialists (pediatrician, nutrition specialist, psychologist, physiotherapist) and the family. The 12-week program offers both lectures, classes for parents and children – raising awareness of the importance of physical activity in daily life and providing education about the basic conditions for a healthy diet. The presence of a psychologist and a pediatrician provides an opportunity to motivate program participants and promote perseverance in the program.
It should be noted that the project has provided not only unique financing for tackling key public health problems and reducing inequalities in society, but also provided a great deal of experience, arguments and advocacy for further action by the municipality to ensure the sustainability of the project even after the closure of the project in 2020