All Italians are covered by the state's health plan. There are 322,000 doctors in Italy, one for every 177 Italian residents. This is more doctors per person than in any other European country. Because health care is so widely available, Italian life expectancy is relatively high: 80 years for women and 74 for men.

The government covers the full cost of life-saving drugs, but Italians are expected to contribute to the cost of other medicines, depending on their income. Many Italians use alternative therapies like homeopathic medicine, acupuncture and massage.

For more than 1,000 years, religious charities provided Italians with health care. Monasteries and convents often served as hospitals for nearby villages. Catholic monks and nuns kept recipes for medicines made from herbs and spices. Even today certain monks make after-dinner herbal drinks called digestivi, which often taste more like medicine than liquor.
Did you know?

The Code of Health was written in verse by Giovanni da Milano in Salerno in the 12th century. For a long time it was used as the standard medical text.

Today religious charities run ambulance services and hospitals. When the Pope needs medical attention, he goes to the large public teaching hospital, Ospedale Gemelli. This hospital, like many in Italy, is run by the Catholic church. You don't have to be Catholic to be treated at the Catholic-run hospitals and they are covered by the government medical plan.

For centuries, Italians have visited special springs called terme. They drink spring water and soak their bodies in waters known for their curative powers. Sulphur springs are said to be good for asthma and mud baths are said to help people who suffer from arthritis. Some of these cures are covered by the national health plan, but most spa visits are considered a luxury.

Traditional cures are often used. Italians take lemon for colds and the flu, and garlic for high blood pressure and bronchial problems. In some regions, people treat a stomach ache by drinkng a "canarino" (canary), a herbal tea made by boiling a few bay leaves together with some lemon rind until it turns yellowish green. Many Italians drink mineral water instead of tap water. They believe the water is good for their digestive systems and kidneys.
Did you know?

Legend says four learned men, a Greek, a Latin, an Arab and a Hebrew, founded the world's first school of medicine in Salerno, Italy. Benedictine monks ran the school from the 10th century onwards. People from all over the world came to teach and learn at the school. Its importance declined during the 14th century.