Mobile healthcare and social protection services for the remotest rural areas
Adelina, a 47-year-old mother of two children, lives in Jollë village, within the Administrative Unit of Velçan. It is one of the remotest and poorest villages of Pogradec — one that even vehicles have trouble reaching. Only the ten remaining families, keep the village alive. Meanwhile, scarce infrastructure, which cuts off the village from the rest of the country, is over-straining the life of those few residents,many of whom living with disabilities, who remain loyal to it.
To get to the nearest village where she can access healthcare services, it takes her about a three hours’ drive from her home.
Adelina and her family live in deep poverty, also partly due to being cut off from the rest of the world. Such poverty has negatively impacted her health and her children’s development throughout the years. As far as she knows, she suffers from thyroid glands and high blood pressure, but as days go by she fears that other silent diseases may put her at risk. On the other hand, she keeps thinking all the time about her children and their well-being.
“The last time I went for a medical check-up, I spent half of the day traveling to the health center. Imagine if one has a health emergency. Living with this fear, makes our daily lives even more difficult”, says Adelina…
Gani Sari lives in Laktesh, another Velçan village nearing complete abandonment. In addition to the family’s poverty, Gani also suffers from many health issues. On top of it all, Gani’s house is old and lacks running water. The lack of such a basic need forces Gani to go to the opposite side of the village and get water supply from another family.
Gani has suffered from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure including a condition which has left him disabled for many years. All these threatening conditions have also caused him walking difficulties. It was only after applying the diet advice on diabetes that he began to take control of his weight and move around more.
Similarly to Jollë Village, Laktesh also lacks a health center, while the family mainly lives on assistance that does not exceed 6000 ALL/month. This amount is supposed to take care of Gani’s health conditions, but, instead, it is used to cover many other family costs first.
How to come to the aid of remote communities?
In order to prioritize this problem causing Adelina, Gani, and other vulnerable members from the remotest mountainous areas of Pogradec, insecurities daily, a mobile healthcare and social services model is being piloted. This intervention is supported by UNDP in the context of a Joint United Nations Programme “Improving Municipal Social Protection Service Delivery”. The Programme is funded by the “Sustainable Development Goals Global Fund” and implemented by UNDP, UNICEF, World Health Organization in Albania and UN Women in partnership with the “Diakonia” foundation and Pogradec Municipality.
Such model aims to increase access to health and social care services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic for all the vulnerable families living in isolation due to the on-going lack of infrastructure and healthcare services, as well as to improve the health index at municipal level.
The mobile healthcare services not only assisted Adelina treat her current severe condition, but also discovered that she suffers from diabetes as well. The intervention team and nurse that visited her home for a medical check-up confirmed this chronic health condition after measuring her blood’s glycerol level at 160 — a parameter that requires immediate intervention.
Upon receiving the necessary care, Adelina was sent to the Pogradec municipal hospital for a more specialized intervention, and she is now receiving periodical family-based medical check-ups and visits, in addition to information on how she should take care of her health in the COVID-19 context. Similarly, Gani is also receiving regular medical check-ups that include blood pressure and diabetes measuring, counseling on how to protect against COVID-19, as well as diet advice, thanks to the intervention. Apart from the obvious health improvements, Gani’s mood significantly brightens with every visit from team members coming to take care of him and his family.
A total of 210 persons, previously deprived of such a fundamental right, are benefiting from these healthcare services.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, UNDP set up a small grants fund which enabled the implementation of innovative projects that contribute to the provision of healthcare services as a response to COVID-19, by Civil Society Organizations operating in the Municipalities of Tirana, Kamza, Puka, Pogradec, Devoll and Rrogozhina.
The call for project proposals was guided by the intention to develop and set up innovative social services capable of being replicated or improved within the territory of the benefiting municipality, even during social distancing times. The novelties that these intervention models brought about include the introduction of new ideas and work methods within a territory, such as digital, phone, mobile services, etc.
On the long term, it is foreseen that the model will enable at least 60 municipal employees polish their skills in delivering social protection services and assist 1200 individuals in 6 municipalities improve their health and social welfare indexes.
“Achieving better health for disadvantaged population, such as communities living in rural areas, requires going well beyond the health sector to take action in related areas such as social protection, education, proper nutrition, water and sanitation. We will continue our efforts in reaching highly vulnerable groups, developing effective partnerships between the government, civil society and the private sector, and designing integrated and equitable social protection and health innovative programmes,” said UNDP’s Resident Representative in Albania Limya Eltayeb.
For UNDP, it is important that no conquerable obstacle — and particularly the physical location of vulnerable communities — becomes a cause that deprives citizens of their fundamental rights.