Italian public health was substantially improved during the last three decades through preventive and therapeutic measures.
The results included an increased life expectancy, a decreased infant mortality and a decrease in disease incidence.
However, notwithstanding these general improvements, disparities can be highlighted among regions.
As for the pharmaceutical market, despite the country's economic crisis, the size of the population and the provision of universal healthcare under the SSN ensure that it remains among the top five in Europe.
Giant reforms disrupted by regional disparities
Italy's national healthcare system, National Health Service (SSN), was instituted in 1978, based on the principles of universalism, comprehensiveness and solidarity, with the aims of guaranteeing uniform provision of comprehensive care throughout the country.
Public health was substantially improved during the last three decades through preventive and therapeutic measures.
As the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies notes in its "Italy Health Systems Review", life expectancy has increased, while infant mortality has decreased during the 1990s. A decrease in the incidence of various diseases ranging from 54.3% to 93.9% has also been achieved as a consequence of immunization campaigns for children under 24 months (e.g. pertussis, measles, tetanus and rubella), and national preventive interventions for cervical cancer (1999) are associated with a reduction in mortality rates of 70%.
The health status of Italy's populations as a whole has thus improved and is in line with that of other EU countries.
On the other hand, the report notes that, notwithstanding these general improvements, disparities can be highlighted among regions.
A main and key feature of Italy's healthcare service is indeed a substantial regional variability in healthcare organization and provision.
In the last 20 years, the degree of regional autonomy in healthcare matters has substantially increased, this process culminating in the 2001 constitutional reform.
Responsibility for healthcare is now shared between the central government and 20 regions, which traditionally differ a great deal in terms of demography, culture, economic development and per capita income.
Disparities can be found in almost any area of healthcare provision, in health policy-making, healthcare expenditure, quality of healthcare, public satisfaction, healthcare services organization and supply.