Every city or town in Belgium has a public assistance committee (elected by the city or town council), which is in charge of health and hospital services in its community. These committees organize clinics and visiting nurse services, run public hospitals, and pay for relief patients in private hospitals. There is a national health insurance plan, membership of which covers practically the whole population. A number of private hospitals are run by local communities or mutual aid societies attached to religious organizations. A school health program includes annual medical examinations for all school children. Private and public mental institutions include observation centers, asylums, and colonies where mental patients live in groups and enjoy a limited amount of liberty.
A number of health organizations, begun by private initiative and run under their own charters, now enjoy semiofficial status and receive government subsidies. Among them are the Belgian Red Cross, the National Tuberculosis Society, the League for Mental Hygiene, and the National Children's Fund. The last of these, working through its own facilities and through cooperating agencies, provides prenatal and postnatal consultation clinics for mothers, a visiting nurse service, and other health services. Health expenditures were estimated at 8.8% of total GDP as of 1999.
Roughly 60% of Belgium's hospitals are privately operated, nonprofit institutions. In 1995, there were 38,369 doctors in Belgium. The country had 287 hospitals at the beginning of 1997. As of 1999, there were an estimated 3.8 physicians and 7.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Nearly 100% of the Belgium population has access to health services. In 1999, the country immunized one-year-old children as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 96%, and measles, 83%. The infant mortality rate in 2000 was 5 per 1,000 live births. Average life expectancy in 2000 was 78 years. As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 7,700 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at fewer than 100. HIV prevalence was 0.15 per 100 adults. Between 1986 and 1994, 35% of the male population and 21% of the female population smoked.