The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is responding to the continuing COVID-19 crisis through a series of projects that will target thousands of Roma, homeless people, and other socially vulnerable groups in Bulgaria.
According to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, health indicators 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, primarily 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 health care,” Marian Dimitrov, ADRA’s country director in Bulgaria, said. “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 opposes being vaccinated and dismisses federal mandates to keep safe, such as wearing a mask and keeping six feet of distance. Only 10 percent of Bulgarians are willing to be vaccinated compared to 52 percent who have refused, according to official findings published in February 2021.
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, appropriately define what immunization means, and share the 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 said. “The expo will have educational and informational sessions, featuring presentations on mental health, healthy lifestyle, and infection prevention.” Dimitrov added that 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, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
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,” Dimitrov explained. “Many of the most vulnerable we are serving in Bulgaria don’t have IDs and can’t afford treatment.” He added, “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 leaders successfully cooperated with psychologists and psychiatrists for a COVID-19 emergency project, partnering with the mental health non-profit Global Initiative on Psychiatry (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
ADRA has planned a facility in Pazardzhik with the three-fold purpose of being an outreach center, a medical facility, and a social center. The location was chosen after research and consultation with local authorities and Seventh-day Adventist churches.
The government will finance all the social activities there, including part of the medical ones.
Dimitrov said 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. They include containing the spread of the virus by teaching protection and basic hygiene and decreasing the deterioration of human assets, rights, and social cohesion by focusing primarily on the poor communities. Those priorities also include teaching vulnerable communities about the advantages of vaccination and offering free medical check-ups to diagnose and treat the diseases that are proven to be the main risks for COVID-19 infections.
“Patients will receive dental and psychosocial services, with a general practitioner on duty,” Dimitrov noted. “In addition, the health center will be equipped with a social room for training, seminars, lectures, social activities of the community, and a kitchen to support the poorest and neediest of the local population. Promoting healthy habits and raising awareness on the importance of disease prevention will be a major emphasis of the center,” he added.
Dimitrov shared that with the health center in Pazardzhik, they expect to see an average of 2,000 beneficiaries receiving access to health care per year.
ADRA is partnering with the Adventist Church to help run the center with the support of local volunteers, non-profit organizations, local authorities, and community associations.
“This health center will have a great impact on the local community and have sustainable results for generations to come,” he said.