The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is responding to the continued COVID-19 crisis through a series of projects that will target thousands of Roma, homeless and socially vulnerable groups in Bulgaria.
Health indicators, according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, show Bulgaria falls behind most countries in the European Union (EU), in economics and life expectancy. The rate of adult smoking and alcohol consumption is also the highest in the EU, with more than one in four adults smoking daily.
Nearly two-thirds of the adult population do not consume at least one piece of fruit each day, mostly because of poverty and lack of education. In addition, government spending on health and primary care is relatively low, and those who do have health insurance experience significantly higher out-of-pocket spending.
“People are dying due to a lack of knowledge and healthcare,” says Marian Dimitrov, ADRA’s country director in Bulgaria. “It is estimated that between 10 and 14 percent of the population have no health coverage at all. We are implementing several projects that will address all of these issues.”
Outreach Through Health Expos
Local reports indicate the general population oppose being vaccinated, and dismiss federal mandates to keep safe, such as wearing a mask and keeping six feet at a distance. Out of most of the population, only 10 percent of Bulgarians are willing to be vaccinated compared to 52 percent who have refused, according to official findings published in February.
ADRA found in its assessments that there is a need for informing and motivating communities in Bulgaria with reliable information. Key components of the information would include ways to self-protect against the virus and appropriately define what immunization means and share what are options to do so.
“To combat the lack of information, we are conducting 10 health expo events with each lasting up to three days depending on needs,” Dimitrov says. “The expo will have educational and informational sessions, featuring presentations on mental health, healthy lifestyle, and infection prevention. The mobile clinic of ADRA-Bulgaria is equipped for screening for social diseases that have proven to be the main risk factors for COVID-19 (diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, etc.).”
Improving a Community’s Wellbeing
“Guarding health, increasing immunity, and reducing chances of infection depends on whether an individual has a medical ID and can physically access health care systems, but many of the most vulnerable we are serving in Bulgaria don’t have IDs and can’t afford treatment,” Dimitrov says. “The problem remains persistent among many Roma and homeless individuals, including the elderly and people with disabilities who live in the most remote areas”
Last year ADRA successfully cooperated with psychologists and psychiatrists for the COVID-19 emergency project, partnering with “GIP-Sofia”. This year they plan to organize personal sessions for physicians to receive psychological assistance during this stressful pandemic. They are expecting at least 100 physicians to participate.
Building a Health Center
A facility in Pazardzhik has been planned with the three-fold purpose of being an influence center, a medical facility and a social center. The location was chosen after research and consultation with local authorities and SDA-churches.
The government will finance all the social activities there, including part of the medical ones.
Dimitrov says that the center will allow affected communities access to COVID-19 testing, vaccines, free dental services, psychology services, and general medical assistance. The health center will focus its COVID-19 prevention approach around four priorities:
- Contain the spread of the virus by teaching protection and basic hygiene.
- Decrease the deterioration of human assets and rights, social cohesion by focusing mostly on the poor communities, and among them the Roma community who are too often ostracized.
- Advocate vulnerable communities about the advantages of vaccination.
- Offer free medical check-ups to early diagnose and treat the diseases proven to be the main risks for COVID-19 infections.
“Patients will receive dental and psychosocial services, with a general practitioner on duty. In addition, the health center will be equipped with a social room for training, seminars, lectures, social activities of the community, and a hot kitchen to support the poorest and neediest of the local population,” Dimitrov says.
“Promoting healthy habits and raising awareness on the importance of disease prevention will be a major emphasis of the center.”
Dimitrov adds that with the health center in Pazardzhik, they expect to see an average of 2,000 beneficiaries receive access to health care per year.
“This health center will have a great impact on the local community and have sustainable results for generations to come,” he says.
ADRA is partnering with the Adventist Church to help run the center, with the support of local volunteers, nonprofit organizations, local authorities, and community associations.
For more information about ADRA’s COVID-19 response, visit: https://www.ADRA.org.