Bringing health services closer to the Roma children

Thousands of Roma families have received support through the Roma health mediator programme in the past six years

Bezit Bezitovski, one of 13 Roma Health Mediators bridging the gaps between the Roma community and the health sector and services
18 July 2018

When Rifat Ibraimovski, a Roma father from Delcevo, returned from Germany, some two years ago, he faced an impossible set of challenges. He didn’t have any income, and he temporarily lost the right to health insurance and to social assistance. To make matters worse, his teenage daughter was about to give birth to his first grandchild.

“I went to Germany to seek asylum on economic grounds [the request was rejected]. When I returned, I was running around town seeking information about how to reclaim my health insurance and financial assistance. Then, this young man came to our house,” Rifat says. “If it wasn’t for him, who knows where we would be today!?”

The young man who visited was Bezit Bezitovski, a Roma health mediator for the city of Delcevo and nearby villages. Before Bezit could help the family, Rifat’s daughter went into labour and was taken to the local hospital to give birth. The concerned father believed the hospital would hold onto his daughter and her new born, until the hospital bill was paid.

“I was very worried. I told the doctor that they could keep my documents [passport or identification card] as a guarantee that the bill will be settled. I had nothing else to offer,” Rifat says.

Rifat Ibraimovski explains how the Roma Health Mediator from his town helped him secure much needed health services for him and for his family

New to the job, the Roma health mediator reassured the father and sought help from some of his more experienced colleague. With the help of Ljatifa Shikovska, a Roma health mediator from Skopje, Bezit was able to secure health insurance for Rifat before his daughter and the newborn were discharged from the hospital.

“Bezit really helped us when my granddaughter was born. He helped us throughout the first few months of her life and has been helping us ever since. He even visits to remind us that she needs to receive her vaccines,” Rifat says.

Securing more than access to health care

Rifat’s family is one of the thousands of Roma families who have received support through the Roma health mediator programme in the past six years. Since working as a Roma health mediator, Bezit has met many different people. According to him, people often need support beyond accessing health services.

“With my colleagues, we’ve been able to help people that couldn’t get social protection payments, and people who do not know how to get a refund for additional medical treatment costs,” Bezit says.

Rifat Ibraimovski, sitting on a sofa, together with his niece, talks about the problems accessing health services prior to learning of the Roma Health Mediators Programme

Thanks to Bezit and his colleagues, Rifat and his daughter also found their way around the administration procedures to access cash transfers. Now the new mother receives financial support as a single parent, and Rifat benefits from basic social protection financial assistance.

More mediators are needed

Bezit Bezitovski is one of thirteen Roma health mediators currently working in the country, in municipalities with a high density of Roma population. The programme started in 2010 to encourage members of the Roma community to use the health services available to all citizens.

Bezit Bezitovski, one of 13 Roma Health Mediators bridging the gaps between the Roma community and the health sector and services

According to a report conducted by the Institute for Public Health in 2015, Roma health mediators provided over 20,000 services in just one year. While the majority, approximately 18,300, were health related, Roma health mediators have helped people obtain personal documents such as birth certificates and identification cards, and helped families access social protection payments.

The report also highlights the importance of their work in improving preventive health care coverage. In 2015, thanks to Roma health mediators some 1,400 children who had missed all or some of their vaccines were fully immunized. Some 2,400 men and 2,700 women also benefited from advice on health seeking behaviours.

Due to the effectiveness of the programme, the Institute for Public Health recommends that the mediators are given permanent employment with benefits and that there should be more mediators, covering all regions in the country.

UNICEF is supporting the Roma Health Mediators programme, through its partners — Ministry of Health and the NGO HERA, aiming to ensure some 10,000 children and their families in seven municipalities with highest density of Roma population benefit from an integrated model of health, social and early childhood development services. The Roma Health Mediators programme is also supported by United Nations Population Fund, Foundation Open Society Macedonia and the Institute for Public Health.