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HEALTH

Spain to offer free dental care to children 

The Spanish government is set to approve a measure which will offer children aged 0 to 14 and other population groups free preventative dental care through the country’s public healthcare system. 

spain free dentist public health
Around 7 million people in Spain, mostly children aged 0 to 14, will soon be able to receive free dental check-ups through the country's public health system. (Photo by JAY DIRECTO / AFP)

The Spanish cabinet on Tuesday looks set to allocate €44 million to its new Oral Health Plan, which aims to give free dental care to young children, pregnant women, people with mental disabilities or upper limb physical disabilities as well as people with head and neck cancers.

Although Spain’s public health system is regarded as one of the best in the world, it generally does not cover dental treatment, meaning most Spaniards have to pay a private dentist to get a check-up or receive any dental treatment. 

Some regions offer more than others. For example, when it comes to young children, Madrid covers the cost of fillings in 6 to 15 year olds, Andalusia pays for check-ups for children aged 6 to 15, and Catalonia and the Valencia region both offer free preventative treatment to those aged 0 to 14.

What Spain’s new Oral Health Plan would do is “homogenise” this public dental cover for children and other population groups deemed vulnerable across all of the country’s 17 regions and two autonomous cities. 

But according to Health Minister Carolina Darias, children aged 0 to 14 will be the primary beneficiaries of this legislation, as they number above 6.5 million in Spain and the plans include regular check-ups, cavity analysis, minor interventions and more.

The future measure, which will still require parliamentary approval in the coming weeks before it can come into force, will also prevent the introduction of more co-payments for non-urgent medical transport or therapeutic dietary and ortho-prosthetic products.

It will not cover the cost of cosmetic treatment such as braces or teeth whitening.

Pregnant women have been included in the plan given that bleeding increases during pregnancy due to heightened circulation, as well as the fact that calcium levels decrease. 

The overall focus of the legislation is on preventative dental care as in the words of the health minister “most” diseases related to oral health, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer or obesity “can be prevented and treated in the early stages”.

The draft law also includes a clause stating that these free healthcare schemes cannot be managed by private companies, as is currently the case.

The €44 million in free dental care funds will be taken from the €70 billion allocated by the EU as part of the bloc’s post-pandemic recovery plans.

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HEALTH

Spain announces two child deaths from mysterious hepatitis outbreak

A six-year-old boy from Murcia and a 15-month-old baby in Andalusia have died of hepatitis amid 46 reported cases among children in Spain.

Spain announces two child deaths from mysterious hepatitis outbreak

The Spanish Ministry of Health has reported the first deaths due to a mysterious outbreak of acute hepatitis in children. On Thursday 4th August it was announced that both children, a 6 year boy from Murcia and a 15 month old baby in Andalusia, died after having liver transplants. 

According to the Ministry of Health, among the 46 cases detected in Spain, three transplants have had to be performed so far.The third procedure was made a 3 year old girl in Aragon, who has responded well to the surgery.

The Ministry reassured the public that of the 46 cases picked up so far, the clinical outcome has been positive in 43 of them. The strange cases, the origins of which are unknown, have been detected in children ranging from the ages of 0 up to 16, with over half (60 percent) of the cases being in girls, according to recent data from the Ministry of Health.

World trend

Cases of hepatitis among children are not isolated to Spain, however. As of late June, the World Health Organization (WHO) had identified 894 suspected cases of acute childhood hepatitis across the globe – of which 30 percent resulted in hospital treatment.

As of 30 June, 473 cases of acute hepatitis have been reported in Europe across 21 countries. The European countries with the most cases so far are: Belgium (14), Italy (35), Portugal (19), Spain (40), and the United Kingdom (268).

The majority – 77 percent – of the severest infections were among children between the ages of zero and five.

Regional breakdown 

Within Spain, Madrid has had the most cases so far, with 15. Then comes Catalonia (9); Galicia (5); Balearic Islands (4); Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia (both with 3 cases); Castilla y León and Andalusia (2, not counting the child who died) and Aragon and the Canary Islands have both had 1 case each.

The first reported cases began in early January, and like the broader European trend, the average age of the cases in Spain is very young – 5.3 years on average, with median age of 4 years old – and the majority (64.4 percent) of cases have been among young girls. 

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can prevent it from functioning properly. It can be both acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).

As of early August, neither the WHO, European medical agencies, nor the Spanish Ministry of Health have been able to conclusively say what is behind the spike in cases among children. 

What are the symptoms?

Severe acute hepatitis can cause jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin, stomach pains, and vomiting. 

Dark urine, light-coloured stools, or itchy skin may also appear as symptoms.

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