Hardships in accessing health care services burden Roma families

Photo credit LSA

Paloma Mehmeti is an 18-years-old girl from the Roma community. She suffers from epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes seizures. Her family started explaining more about her illness as Paloma wasn’t in a good health condition to explain the situation herself.

Her mother gave birth when she was 20-years-old. The baby girl was born with the illness and raising her was a true challenge for the Roma family. Her mother recounts that her health situation deteriorated in the last couple of years.

Epilepsy, which is considered a chronic disease, comes with high costs for the family as they struggle to buy Paloma’s medicines. Paloma must regularly buy Depakin-Acidi Valproik, a pill that costs around 3000-4000 Albanian Lek per month and it is her family who buys the medicine for her.

Paloma’s medicine is not reimbursed by the state, although it’s included in the list of the medicines covered by the state. This happens because she, or her family, has not applied for the reimbursement. She has public health insurance, therefore, she can get medical help regularly but on the other hand, an application for reimbursement is required.

“I tried once to apply for the reimbursement of the medicine but it was a long and difficult process. There are plenty of papers to prepare for the application, and Paloma needs to meet another doctor who is specialized in her sickness but I do not have information on how to do it, in order to get Paloma’s medicines reimbursed.”- said Paloma’s mother.

Since epilepsy is considered a chronic disease medicines should be reimbursed by the state. In the decision no. 489, dated 30.7.021, of the Council of Ministers, epilepsy medicine was designated to be covered by the state budget and approved by the Insurance Fund of Compulsory Health Care.

Find below the list of medicines https://fsdksh.gov.al/project/lista-e-barnave/

Paloma’s case is not the only one among the Roma community that faces difficulties in having access to health care services. We also met with Mrs. Takushi, a woman in her 60s, who suffered from cancer. She said that her family helped her apply for the disability status and the medicine reimbursement because she suffered from cancer. Cancer caused her problems with her legs and therefore she cannot walk long distances.

Her biggest concern is that she has to renew the paperwork on a yearly basis in order to profit from the invalidity social scheme.
“It is hard for me to go every year and renew the documents for the invalidity social scheme because I need to ask others for help and that is tiring and costly for me.” – said Mrs. Takushi.

Lack of information, economic hardship, and institutional bureaucracies are some of the hurdles when asking for some basic rights in public institutions. That is why many times organizations defending Roma rights in Albania have sought easier access to these services, such as the healthcare scheme and medication subsidies.

Fatos Koçi, an activist for Roma rights, says: “It is very important that the state institutions, municipality, but also NGOs, should hold informing sessions on the procedures that these people need to follow in order to be granted the disability (invalidity) status, or which are the steps that need to be followed by chronically ill patients to get a reimbursement for their medication.”
Mr. Koçi says that a possible solution is that the volunteers and organizations need to go to areas where there’s a larger concentration of the Roma community and explain to them how to solve these problems.

“I would recommend to the Albanian government that those who suffer from chronic illnesses apply only once for the invalidity status, and not once in a year or once in a couple of years as it is now, it is unnecessary.”- suggests Olta Tare, activist for the rights of the Roma community.

Many citizens from the Roma community do not exercise their rights related to health insurance, invalidity status, or medicine reimbursement because of the lack of information. They do not know which medicines are covered by the state, what documents are needed, or where to go to do the application.