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As COVID-19 spread across Europe, it has become clear that European Roma, who have some of the lowest opportunities, are among the most vulnerable groups to have been most affected by this public health emergency. Civil society organisations across Europe have already alerted policy and decision makers about the worrying health, social and economic situation of Roma people calling on the European institutions and national governments to provide effective measures to reduce health inequalities when tackling the crisis consequences on the poorest members of our society.

Now, Roma and pro-Roma civil society organisations have decided to unite their forces to create the Roma Health Network – to build a Roma public health community that seeks to improve Roma health by working together to highlight, in a more concerted manner, the measures needed to tackle the issues responsible for the health inequalities Roma communities are still facing, despite living in one of the richest regions of the world. The Roma Health Network stands for equal access to political, social and economic rights and services to achieve lasting change for Roma through the closure of the Roma health gap.

COVID-19 has shown that the lower political commitment to improving Roma health in the past has largely contributed to the stronger socio-economic impact on these communities they are facing today. Moreover, this public health crisis has also tested the European institutions and Member States in their capacity to challenge social inequalities affecting Roma, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Already before the pandemic, many Member States failed to bring about real noticeable change for Europe’s Roma communities,” states Michael O’Flaherty, Director of Fundamental Rights Agency underlining the lower achievement on Roma inclusion.

Europe’s largest ethnic minority has been left behind for decades.  Comprehensive policies are now needed from the European institutions and national governments, not only, to mitigate the crisis’ socio-economic effects on Roma but also to implement concrete measures to closing the gap between Roma and Roma. Policy makers must also not ignore the potential of the 10-12 million Roma population living in Europe to contribute to Europe’s cultural heritage and economic and social development, especially when the European Commission’s new recovery plan aims to shape “the Europe for the next generation.” This Europe should be more inclusive, based on equity and social justice and must provide stronger guarantees for the equal treatment of all Europeans in strategic areas such as healthcare and prevention, education, housing, environment, employment and gender equality. Roma communities should have equal opportunities to “repair” the damage caused by the crisis and play better role in the decision making process in the future.

The new network aims to tackle these issues by creating space for policy dialogue and cooperation across civil society beyond the healthcare sector; as well as promoting sustainable initiatives to reduce health inequalities which also encompass social policies, environment, and human rights to develop mainstream and Roma-specific policies to improve Roma health.

The network, hosted by EPHA, is open to both individuals and organisations who are interested in working together to achieve social justice for Roma though a holistic approach towards Roma health.

More information on the new network’s activities and how to join can be found here or by contacting Radost Zaharieva at radost@epha.org