From January to March 2021, the country of Slovakia witnessed its highest level of COVID-19 cases, with nearly 100 new deaths daily, according to Worldometer, a real-time world statistics database. The most vulnerable are the elderly, whom the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has been aiding. The country’s death toll has been decreasing, according to local reports. Still, older adults, people without homes, marginalized communities, and people with disabilities remain heavily impacted due to lack of access to COVID-19 resources.
“We are seeing the number of COVID-19 cases drop, which is good news, but we are concerned for elderly people, the homeless, and people with disabilities who live in hard-to-reach locations in the country,” Stanislav Bielik, ADRA’s country director in Slovakia, said.
“Many people, including the marginalized Roma and homeless communities, are not aware of the facts about COVID-19, [or] preventative measures, and there is fear that by the autumn months, the country may be hit by another wave of the COVID-19. To minimize the number of coronavirus cases, we want to ensure the most vulnerable are protected and that their well-being is intact to prevent them from getting this deadly virus.”
Roma communities often live in overcrowded, substandard shelters, and homeless people have not benefitted from the same access to health care, hygiene information, and COVID-19-related resources as the rest of the Slovakian population.
Additionally, the most vulnerable Roma and homeless communities were not receiving access to clean water and financial resources to purchase hand sanitizers and face masks, which makes them at risk of contracting the virus, according to Bielik.
Health Clinic on Wheels
“Health experts agree that the only way to mitigate the devastating consequences is to follow prevention measures and vaccinate a significant percentage of the population to prepare for future outbreaks,” Bielik said. “The downside was that the elderly and people who were homeless or had disabilities couldn’t come to the health clinics to get tested or vaccinated due to lack of transportation and mobility issues or couldn’t register online because they were not computer savvy, so we decided we’d go to them.”
Many people in Slovakia live in the countryside, many miles from larger towns, and have been discouraged from commuting to vaccination centers because of the distance. ADRA’s country director thinks a mobile bus is the answer.
“We call it the HELP BUS, a mobile vaccination unit that we’ll use to travel to hard-to-reach villages,” Bielik said.
The bus was donated by a local bus company, which ADRA refurbished and equipped with technical control systems, a kitchenette, and an eating space for the medical and logistics team. The refurbished bus also includes a shower, a unit for the vaccination team, and an examination room that will be stocked with a defibrillator, stretcher, wheelchair, oxygen device, and first aid kit.
Through the mobile bus, ADRA will reach approximately 20,000 people in several Slovak regions to help them understand what COVID-19 is and get them access to a licensed and certified medical team traveling on the bus, which will help the communities make an informed choice about being vaccinated.
“We are working with district officials to get the word out about the mobile bus’s schedule and arrival,” Bielik said. “The people in remote areas can rest assured that help is on the way.”
ADRA Is There as a Good Neighbor
In addition to living so far from health centers in major towns, some marginalized Roma and homeless communities have been impacted economically, and unexpected health expenses have worsened the situation for impoverished families and individuals, including care homes for the elderly.
To help those in financial distress, ADRA has partnered with Amazon, a global e-commerce company, to assist.
“The lockdown restrictions in the country significantly strengthened online shopping, but as a result, customers weren’t satisfied with the shipment of [some] products and returned them. Since that’s the case, Amazon will donate those returned yet brand-new goods to ADRA to distribute them to the marginalized Roma communities, homeless people, elderly, and people with special needs at care homes, and to families who lost their source of income due to the pandemic,” Bielik said.
Based on the nature of the products, ADRA will conduct ongoing assessments to manage the distribution of items.
ADRA will also collaborate with local Seventh-day Adventist church members to volunteer at care homes to provide social and psychosocial care, along with recreational activities.
“In the past months, we have been made aware that the elderly and people who have been physically or mentally disadvantaged have been facing social isolation, which has had a major impact on their health and well-being,” Bielik said. “Our plan is to train 30 volunteers to support the elderly with psychosocial care, counter misinformation about COVID-19, and share what it means to get vaccinated in vulnerable communities.”
Bielik adds that as a follow-up to the first training, ADRA plans to organize a volunteer camp at Pohorelska Masa care home for women with physical and mental disadvantages, mostly from Roma communities.
“The road to recovery from the pandemic is an uncertain one; however, what’s certain is that people, regardless of who they are or what their status, all deserve care and full support,” he said.