Ahead of International Roma Day on 8th April 2017, 27 March sees the launch of the second European Roma Week, under the high patronage of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in co-operation with Roma civil society.
EPHA revealed at the beginning of the year the Roma health crisis because of huge inequalities in accessing health insurance, resulting in a high rate of unmet medical care needs in many Roma communities. Two projects in Bulgaria and Slovakia aim to tackle the discrimination and disadvantage which prevent Roma access to health care.
In Bulgaria, the National Network of Health Mediators (NNHM) has joined with EPHA in a project designed to improve access by the Roma population to health and social services and institutions. Health Mediators are employed by local municipalities to build contacts and collect information on people’s health conditions, identifying children who may have missed their vaccinations, or pregnant women who cannot access care because they have no health insurance. As Roma people are often treated unequally or openly discriminated against and segregated because of their ethnic origin, their role is particularly important in identifying unmet health needs, and ensuring follow-up care. Since 2001, 350 health mediators from the Roma Community have been employed, and in 2007 the Bulgarian government extended the programme to the whole country.
In Slovakia, the Healthy Communities national project organised by the Platform for Support of Disadvantaged Groups, also in conjunction with EPHA, aims to find a systemic and sustainable solution to promote access to healthcare and public health of disadvantaged groups, with a particular focus on Roma women and children. Health mediators, supported by the Slovakian Ministry of Health, are now present in 239 different locations throughout Slovakia, inviting clients for vaccinations and preventive check-ups, organising home visits and follow-up visits for mothers with newborns, accompanying patients to their doctor or to the hospital, and hosting education sessions to raise awareness within the Roma community of the importance of hygiene and healthy habits, and risks linked from sexually transmitted diseases.
Both the health mediation programme in Bulgaria and the healthy communities project in Slovakia were part of the Social Platform (the largest network of European rights- and value-based civil society organisations working in the social sector of which is EPHA) publication “Investing in services for people’s well-being – From good practices to better policies which collected 14 case studies to show that investing in high quality health, housing, social, employment and education services and social infrastructures for all is an investment in people and for the future , and not simply a cost.
Both projects highlight the importance of social investment, generating positive effects on both education and employment, as well as aiming to improve Roma health. The projects not only provide employment and professional development opportunities for the mediators themselves but improving the health of the Roma community more generally helps them reconnect with the labour market – but also facilitate the building of partnerships between doctors, public health organisations, civil society, mayors and local authorities to resolve the health and social issues members of the Roma community face. The projects’ focus on prevention also encourages the promotion of healthy behaviours which has wider economic, social and environmental benefits.
While both projects have been judged to have been a success, many Roma still have poor access to health care and health information. However, a proven and tested solution has been found to tackle the Roma health crisis.