Roma Health Mediators: connecting communities

Kristina Petrovic is a single mother, struggling to adequately provide for her three-year old daughter Lejla and her son Dragoljub, who is only 11 months old.

Vladimir Banic
Kristina, with her two children Lejla and Dragoljub, lives in a Roma settlement in Resnik, in Belgrade.
UNICEF Serbia/2017/Shubuckl

13 February 2017

Kristina Petrovic is 21 years old and she has two children. A great joy, but also a great concern.

She is struggling, as a single mother, to adequately provide for her three-year old daughter Lejla and her son Dragoljub, who is only 11 months old.

While Kristina is dressing Dragoljub she admits that she doesn’t really know how she manages to keep food on the table, with welfare benefits covering only the most basic of necessities.

They lack everything – food, clothing and firewood. Yet, her biggest fear is that her children will get sick.

 

Making Links

Until recently, she had no health insurance. After giving birth to her first child she was visited by a Roma Health Mediator who helped her and her child access the health care system.

“Together we filled out the forms for health insurance cards, but also wrote applications to access child allowance payments. She also helped me a lot with advice about the baby. I don’t know if that is her job, but I called her even when I needed advice on how to care for my baby’s umbilical cord stump”, says Kristina.

There are currently 68 Roma Health Mediators active in 53 primary health centres in Serbia.

These are Roma women, mothers, coming from Roma settlements, who have completed at least primary education and have received a series of comprehensive trainings to be able to recognise and respond to the health and social needs of the Roma population they visit.

Their main role is to support access to services, but also to provide information and education based on needs to parents.

Svetlana Ilic, the Roma Health Mediator, has struck up a rapport with the family.
UNICEF Serbia/2017/Shubuckl
Svetlana Ilic, the Roma Health Mediator, has struck up a rapport with the family.

"Together we filled out the forms for health insurance cards, but also wrote applications to access child allowance payments. She also helped me a lot with advice about the baby. I don’t know if that is her job, but I called her even when I needed advice on how to care for my baby’s umbilical cord stump."

Kristina (21)

Personal Connections

Svetlana Ilic is one of the mediators. She often gets phone calls even after working hours. She doesn’t see this as a problem – the most important thing is to be able to help.

“First, we address the biggest problem of the Roma population living in inadequate settlements, and that’s personal documents, as well as access to financial social assistance, which they are entitled to. Next, we tackle issues concerning early childhood development. When visiting families, we try to educate them as much as possible on how to keep their children healthy, for example by vaccinating them.”

Because Roma Health Mediators come from the Roma community, making the contact with the population that is seeking help more direct and open. They are more familiar with the problems and needs of Roma families.

“I really see the mediator primarily as my friend, and then as somebody who could help me or provide advice”, Kristina confirms.

 

Lasting Benefits

Kristina, who only completed primary education, stresses that her children will go to high school.

She wants to enrol them in kindergarten. At the moment this is difficult, as the kindergarten is too far away and it would be too difficult to carry her son all the way.

But as soon as he is able to walk independently, she wants both Lejla and Dragoljub to go to kindergarten. She is looking forward to a brighter future for her children.

The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia initiated the Roma Health Mediator project to respond to the needs of the Roma population, particularly in the health sector.

UNICEF, in partnership with Telenor, further supported this initiative to introduce the use of technology and mobile communication to increase access to services and data monitoring, as well as strengthening the capacities of Roma Health Mediators.

The partnership was renewed and expanded with the participation of the Global Telenor Group in 2014.