When Lithuania declared its independence in 1990, one of the new government's responsibilities was to create a health system to replace the former centralized system of the Soviet Union. The country already had several major hospitals and schools of medicine, but it needed to create its own administrative system and to establish programs to monitor the health of Lithuanians throughout the country.

The stresses associated with the transition from a centralized command economy to a decentralized market economy affected the health of Lithuanians. In particular, the incidence of tuberculosis, a disease linked to poverty, increased between 1990 and 1995. Sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and diseases related to environmental pollution, such as hepatitis A and dysentery, also increased. For many years, Lithuanians have also suffered from health problems related to smoking and a high-fat diet, and from cancers caused by the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, in neighbouring Belarus. The population is aging and the care of seniors is also a concern.

Today, the Lithuanian Ministry of Health oversees measures related to disease prevention, primary health care, specialized health care in university hospitals and medical education. A compulsory health insurance program, which covers most health care services and treatments, has been instituted.

The Ministry of Health has initiated programs to reduce tobacco use and alcohol consumption, increase physical activity, ensure healthy nutrition and increase awareness of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. Psychiatric counselling is also available for people who suffer from mental illness or extreme stress. At present, Lithuania has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Homeopathic and natural remedies have always been popular in Lithuania and doctors sometimes prescribe herbs and teas for certain ailments. Camomile is used to treat indigestion, nausea and colds. Honey, dried blueberries and linden tree flowers are recommended for colds. Some Lithuanians take mud baths to treat rheumatism.

   Did you know?
In the 16th century, mineral springs were discovered at Druskininkai on the Nemunas River and the town became a health resort. People still travel to these springs to seek treatment for ailments related to the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems.