HIV/AIDS in Albania
Although Albania has a low prevalence of HIV/AIDS, cases of HIV/AIDS in Albania have risen over the years. Cases of HIV in Albania increased by more than 50% between 2008 and 2018. The most recent estimates note 1,400 HIV cases, equating to a prevalence lower than 0.05%. The highest prevalence of HIV is apparent among specific vulnerable populations: “people who inject drugs, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, ” The Global Fund reported. However, stigma and discrimination present barriers to testing and treatment. The Albanian organization Aksion Plus, a member of the IDPC (International Drug Policy Consortium) aims to reduce HIV/AIDs in Albania through education and awareness campaigns, with a special focus on the most vulnerable groups.

People Who Inject Drugs (PWID)

Data from a 2019 HIV Integrated Biological and Behavioural Study (IBBS) reported a low rate of HIV/AIDS among PWID at 1.4%. However, the study shows concerning rates of needle sharing among this group. At the time of the study, about 41% of PWID reported sharing needles with others in the last 30 days. The majority of these individuals shared needles with one person and 14% shared with up to three people. This means the PWID group is at high risk of contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS in Albania. There are also difficulties in reaching the PWID group as most of them inject drugs in isolated areas during hours when not many people are around.

Men Who Have Sex with Men

Men Who Have Sex With Men are also vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS. In 2019, Albania noted 93 new HIV cases, with men accounting for 66% of these cases. Sexual intercourse is the primary mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS in Albania among men who have sex with men. However, the number of HIV cases among this group is likely higher as stigma and discrimination deter individuals from revealing their sexual practices and prevent them from seeking out testing/treatment.

The 2019 IBBS study shows an HIV prevalence of 2.0% among this group. However, condom use is high. Comparing the 2011 and 2019 IBBS results, 74% of respondents in 2019 used condoms during their last sexual encounters compared to 14% in 2011.

Aksion Plus

Aksion Plus has engaged in HIV/AIDS work in Albania since 1992. The organization works to prevent the spread of HIV through advocacy and education campaigns. Aksion Plus also provides targeted support to those who inject drugs. The activities to reduce HIV among this group include needle exchanges, methadone therapy, “outreach in the drug scene” and counseling.

The organization runs a program, which began in 2014, to educate the younger generation about HIV/AIDS. In the program, a group of social workers gives HIV/AIDS information, life skills education and counseling to students in some of Albania’s secondary schools. Due to the success of the program, the Regional Directorate of Education is bringing similar initiatives to other high schools.

Through the work of Aksion Plus, efforts are in place to prevent, manage and control cases of HIV/AIDS in Albania. In this way, Aksion Plus contributes to the health and well-being of the country’s citizens.

– Olga Petrovska
Photo: Unsplash

Charities Operating In Albania
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many countries, even developing ones that saw progress before it. Inflation rates and the current war in Ukraine are also slowing things down for Albania. However, some organizations and charities operating in Albania are still at work helping to alleviate prior and new struggles.

Efforts Before Pandemic

Albania had been undergoing work towards equitable growth for years even before the pandemic. One example was the help it was receiving from organizations like the World Bank Group and its Country Partnership Framework plan (CPF). This strategy began in 2015 and lasted through 2019 where it focused on macroeconomic balances, private and public sector growth and service delivery. This plan was then extended two more years due to elections and the pandemic.

Current Help From Charities

Efforts are still ongoing with well-known and even smaller charities. Project Worldwide has compiled a list of many nonprofit organizations that are helping in Albania. Here are five of the charities operating in Albania that deserve mention along with a quick rundown of what they are doing in their work:

  1. Integra Ventures USA – Starting in 1995, Integra joined together with a ministry already operating in Slovakia. It then expanded to several other countries in Central/Eastern Europe helping them economically. It did this not just through investments but also by providing training and education on business and economic matters. Integra’s work in Albania includes seminars and mentorship to Christian entrepreneurs in the country over finances, marketing, sales and inventory. It specifically focuses on small or medium businesses in these communities to support.
  2. ABC Health Foundation – The ABC Health Foundation has focused its work on improving health care by providing education and training for students and physicians in Albania. It has implemented internship programs, a training center and even basic training for First Aid and CPR. The programs focus on teachings of biblical family medical care and they provide some training not just for medical students but also expecting mothers and different groups of women. Albania compared to surrounding countries has a lower health status for its population. This is due to economical, political and social transitions happening over the past years including demographic changes. Albania’s health system is still facing challenges and will benefit from any focus on health care like those that the ABC Health Foundation and other charities are providing.
  3. Childspring International, INC. – Another charity working towards health care in Albania is Childspring International. It provides medical care for developing countries. The children and their families benefit from these services, such as the provision of important surgeries. Childspring International has granted medical care to more than 4,242 children in developing countries including Albania.
  4. Know My World Inc. – Know my World Inc. supports teachers and students with more than traditional academia. With emphasis and focus on education about self, cultural and global awareness, it also works to provide students with the knowledge to help initiate social change. The programs and training at Know My World Inc. are all geared towards that goal. One project incorporating this goal is its Student Virtual Cross-Cultural Exchange Experience.
  5. UNICEF – UNICEF is a well-known organization that helps bring developmental aid to children worldwide. In Albania, it does the same but can be clarified more as supporting the government and partners with policies, reform, research and resources towards children’s rights and helping them establish sustainable and equitable development. One specific way UNICEF brings support to education is by working with Albania’s ministry of education, sports and youth. It helps find children who are not in school and get them back into the system while also helping with financial analysis to help further preschool education. UNICEF also assists with teacher training in Albania.

Albania’s Future

These charities operating in Albania are just a few among many others that are helping Albania. Business, education and health care are some of the focuses that help countries reach stability. These organizations do not always give funds, but often also provide mentoring, educational programs, governmental support and other resources. The types of aid that these organizations are giving should help Albania recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and any future challenges.

– Marynette Holmes
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Albania
The 2020 pandemic lockdowns hit Albania, a nation still struggling to cope with the effects of a once-in-a-century earthquake from just the year before, extremely hard. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania resulted in acute economic and social challenges but targeted fiscal policies and international aid suggest a hopeful future for the Balkan state.

Impact on the Most Vulnerable Sectors

Albania’s economy relies heavily on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which comprise more than 85% of the private sector’s formal employment. Its reduced size increased its fragility in the face of the earthquake and the pandemic made it difficult for MSMEs to access loans and use insurance policies. MSMEs’ hardships meant a significant drop in tax returns for the government and increased unemployment in the lower socio-economic sectors.

In 2019, one-third of the Albanian population lived on less than $5.50 a day, making it the nation with the highest rate of poverty out of all the Western Balkan states. COVID-19 ended up increasing the poverty rate by 4%, which is equivalent to additional 112,000 people living in poverty.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania is especially hard for women. Not only did more women face an increase in unpaid domestic labor compared to men, but 97.5% of women-led firms are in the MSME category, Financial Protection Forum reports. In addition, a 2020 U.N. Women report found that women between 25-44 years old living in urban areas were at the highest risk of unemployment.

International Response

This dual economic and social blow to women’s livelihoods required urgent action to prevent this vulnerable group from falling into long-term unemployment. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) addressed the issue of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania through a series of small projects for women in Tirana and other municipalities. The projects also targeted the promotion of equal family gender roles along with measures to combat domestic violence and offer psychological support to victims.

The UNDP aided other at-risk groups as well. From teletherapy services for disabled persons to employment promotion for ethnic minorities, the UNDP provided localized efforts to address problems raised by the pandemic.

The French Agency for Development (AFD) also continued its projects to increase Albanian women’s access to economic opportunities and further the fight for gender equality. The AFD’s foreign aid is part of an initiative to lead Albania towards fulfilling the social criteria needed for entry into the EU.

Albania’s cultural sector also needs help to recover from the impact of COVID-19. Lockdowns and travel restrictions gravely damaged the industry as it relies heavily on events and tourism. Along with MSMEs, the cultural sector plays a significant role in the economy, generating 2.95% of Albania’s GDP.

Wide-Reaching Solutions

These severe impacts on two of Albania’s most lucrative sectors, MSMEs and culture, needed to be curbed as soon as possible while addressing the state’s high pre-pandemic poverty rate. The Albanian government thus implemented a fiscal stimulus of about 3.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Through welfare support, tax relief and credit schemes the government alleviated the burden on the private sector and policies on credit installments curtailed impacts on new businesses.

Only 18% of Albanian firms reported using digital platforms to adapt to the pandemic, suggesting that the government efforts were the primary aid to alleviate the pandemic’s impact. The cultural sector, however, stands out. The Ministry of Culture founded the National Digitalization Center. Apart from that, 87.5% of institutions and enterprises in the cultural sector reported moving part of their business to virtual platforms, UNESCO reported.

The government also alleviated the impacts of the fall of the euro. The Bank of Albania promoted the lek’s stability and increased transparency in transactions involving foreign currencies. The European Commission and European Central Bank contributed financial aid to stabilize the banking system and provide euro support, LSE reported.

These sweeping measures were effective in helping the nation bounce back in the post-pandemic period. Despite rising inflation levels and supply chain disruptions, both the real wage and the minimum wage increased in 2021. Most significantly, the poverty rate dropped to 22% in 2021.

Looking Ahead

In 2021, the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) agreed to loan Albania €60 million to “mitigate the effects of COVID-19.” The loan aims to aid individuals especially vulnerable to the pandemic and help close the €570 million gap created in 2020. The loan and government measures may thus offset the impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania through sustainable growth.

The impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania were challenging, touching the most vulnerable sectors of the economy and exacerbating social challenges for women. However, the government’s wide-reaching economic reforms successfully curbed the pandemic’s economic impact on the industries and continued decreasing the nation’s poverty rate. International aid from the UNDP, EU and CEP was crucial in helping complement the government efforts by addressing the pandemic’s social impacts. This continued aid can continue to help Albania lower its poverty rate.

– Elena Sofia Massacesi
Photo: Unsplash

Human trafficking in Albania
Albania experienced greater prosperity than it ever had during its years as a Soviet satellite state, with its national income and standard of living skyrocketing as the country industrialized and urbanized. When the communist government lost power following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, political instability, government-backed pyramid schemes and civil war caused an economic disaster. As a result, many of Albania’s desperate poor, particularly women and children, became vulnerable to human traffickers, who significantly expanded their operations.

The Situation in Contemporary Albania

The Albanian government and the National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters identified 81 potential trafficking victims, with an additional five victims officially recognized in 2020. Of the 85 total victims, 58 were children and 62 were female. These figures are lower than in 2019, when there were 96 potential victims and seven confirmed victims, 80 of whom were female and 67 were minors. However, the number of victims is likely higher, and prosecutors did not convict any traffickers in 2020, whereas they did in 2019.

To compare, the state identified 134 total victims from 2005 through 2006, following the introduction of its first action plan for “trafficking in persons. Among the victims were 123 women, 77 children and 112 Albanians. In 2005, there were 49 convictions, and in 2006, there were 56. The country’s ability to identify victims has certainly improved, yet the complexity of trafficking cases has increased over the years, making convictions more difficult.

A Tier 2 source country, traffickers smuggle more people out of Albania than they bring in. The primary destinations of trafficked individuals are countries neighboring Albania such as Greece and Italy, as well as Western European countries like the United Kingdom, which had about 600 Albanian potential victims in 2015. In all, the number of Albanian victims abroad could be in the thousands. The Albanian government must fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to become a Tier 1 country, the highest and best tier. Albania has held a Tier 2 position for many years because it continues to make significant efforts to meet the Act’s standards.

The Link Between Trafficking and Poverty

Human traffickers are most likely to prey on the poor and those living in rural areas because the poor are frequently desperate for work and people living in rural areas are more isolated than city dwellers. Women, children and migrants are also traffickers’ most common prey since they tend to be easier to entice and hold captive while engaging in sexual acts with the former two is in higher demand than with adult men. Though they are not prime targets, traffickers hold men captive as well, typically forcing them to perform farm or factory work in nearby Balkan countries.

In 2016, 33.90% of the population lived on less than $5.50 per day, compared to more than 55% in 2002. Similarly, the proportion of the population living in rural areas has decreased since the expansion of trafficking in Albania, from around 60% in the 1990s and early 2000s to 37.89% in 2021. Thus, the target demographic of human traffickers is shrinking.

Examining the Targets of Traffickers

Traffickers force children to sell small items on the street and beg for money, especially during tourist season, when traffickers know tourists are more vulnerable to these practices. Their captors make these children hand over most or all of the money they earn. Traffickers also solicit minors for the purpose of sex. The traffickers tend to force children of ethnic minorities and migrant groups such as the Romani into seasonal work. Stigmas against the Romani make them vulnerable to traffickers, less identifiable as victims and less likely to receive support.

Traffickers entice poor women to work as prostitutes by posting false job ads and posing as wealthy boyfriends. These women keep little to none of the money they earn, leaving them only with the trauma of their experiences. Captive women work in nail salons, factories and as domestic servants when not performing sex work. The attitudes of men toward women are also a component in women being targets.

Transiting migrants heading to Western Europe from Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, are additional targets of human traffickers in Albania. The language barrier, the fact they are in an unfamiliar country and their desire to reach a wealthy nation make migrants susceptible to traffickers looking to exploit them.

The Albanian Government’s Response

The government is doing little to resolve law enforcement’s limited ability to screen and identify potential victims from migrant groups, children and sex workers. The Border and Migration Police have few interpreters, yet people speaking dozens of languages other than Albanian cross the border regularly. This language barrier exacerbates the difficulty of identifying and helping trafficking victims.

The lack of specialized experience prosecuting trafficking cases results in prosecutors convicting few criminals for human trafficking-related crimes. Instead, they often either convict the accused of a lesser crime, or the accused goes free. Furthermore, government employees are allegedly complicit in various human trafficking crimes. If true, corruption is contributing to human trafficking in Albania. The government claimed it would conduct an investigation but is not yet prosecuting anyone.

Government Investments to Reduce Trafficking

The government invested 29.3 million leks, the equivalent of $291,980, to the government-run specialized shelter for human trafficking victims. This is a massive increase to the 20.9 million leks or $208,270, it spent in 2019. While the government decided to reduce the funds it allocates to the salaries of support staff at NGO shelters, it spent more on food support. Delays in funding periodically undermined the efforts of shelters, however.

Additionally, the government moved 4.6 million leks ($45,840) to a fund of seized criminal assets designed for victims of human trafficking in Albania. The offices of the National Employment Services offered job priority to 60 of these victims. The government has also provided vocational training to 20 officially recognized victims and offered temporary residence permits to foreign victims.

Ending Human Trafficking in Albania

After the fall of the communist government, traffickers exploited the turmoil to expand their illegal trade, enriching themselves at the expense of their victims. However, the plague of human trafficking has undergone mitigation due to increased combined efforts of the Albanian government and NGOs. To eradicate human trafficking in Albania, the government must establish more robust social programs for the poor, expand job opportunities and improve access to support services; especially for people in rural areas. The government also needs to improve its screening of targeted groups, better train police in identification and prosecutors in dealing with trafficking cases, put greater emphasis on reintegration and fund NGO-run shelters consistently.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Albania’s bunkersFrom the 1960s to the 1980s, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha fortified Albania by building more than 750,000 bunkers in anticipation of an invasion from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and NATO. In the event of an invasion, rather than relying on the services of the army, Hoxha believed that citizens should take up arms and seek refuge in the bunkers scattered across the entire country. The invasion did not occur and Albania’s bunkers, serving no purpose, faced abandonment and decay. Four decades later, Albanians have found a new purpose for them. In addition to individuals using the bunkers for personal needs, the growing tourism industry would facilitate a new use for the abandoned structures.

Albanian Tourism

From 1946 to 1992, Albania was under the rule of a strict communist regime that barred the country from international tourism. Albania’s past significantly tainted the international community’s image of the country. However, in the past two decades, the Albanian government has managed to improve the attractiveness of the country as reflected by the increase in tourists.

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of tourists to Albania increased fivefold from about 1.1 million annual visitors to about 5.2 million annual visitors. The increase was stimulated by direct actions from the government such as fiscal incentives for constructing new hotels in the country as well as concrete development plans advertising the geographic location of the country and its rich cultural heritage. While in 2002 the poverty rate stood at 49.7%, the country made major strides with a poverty rate of 33.8% in 2017.

Revitalization of Albania’s Bunkers

To earn an income, many Albanians turn to tourism for work. In particular, the free-standing historic bunkers are undergoing refurbishing to serve as house tattoo studios, cafes, restaurants and even accommodations for tourists. In 2012, professors and students from the POLIS University and FH-Mainz in Germany embarked on the Bed & Bunker project to repurpose Albania’s bunkers as bed and breakfast hostels for tourists. The group began this project with the mission of preserving Albania’s heritage, succeeding in raising awareness for this cause.

Albanian-Canadian architect, Elian Stefa, has come up with further step-by-step guides and proposals for revitalizing the bunkers. In other words, people are recognizing the bunkers’ value and transformative plans have already come to fruition while other repurposing plans will soon occur.

Economic Growth

The demand for Albania’s bunkers as hotels and service amenities for tourists is growing. Bunkers, as displays of the country’s convoluted but rich history, has helped bring down the unemployment rate and stimulate economic growth in Albania. Between 2014 and 2020, the unemployment rate almost halved, decreasing from 18.06% to 11.7%. Furthermore, the GDP has risen as well with growth from about $12 billion in 2010 to roughly $15.3 billion in 2019. With more people working, Albania was able to decrease its poverty rate to 33.8% in 2017. Furthermore, since the bunkers are scattered throughout the country, the economic growth is not only limited to urban centers, with communities in the countryside also benefiting.

Using History to Serve the Present

Built in the 20th century, Albania’s bunkers were abandoned as the anticipated war they were built for did not manifest. This, however, did not discourage individuals from revitalizing Albania’s bunkers to serve the growing tourism sector. This growth had a positive effect, incentivizing individuals to ensure the preservation of the bunkers and uphold the rich Albanian heritage. Moreover, the resulting increase in revenue from tourism has created new jobs, reducing the poverty rate by 16% in 15 years.

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the Akademi.al online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave Akademi.al the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

New Policies to Protect Women and Girls in AlbaniaSince 2018, Albanian law has changed in ways that are finally giving women and girls more protection against violence. To respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic, various NGOs and the Albanian government have adapted once again to help survivors and victims. Here is how new policies in Albania are protecting women and girls.

5 Legislation Changes to Protect Women and Girls in Albania

  1. Law on Measures Against Violence in Family Relations: In 2018, important changes were made to the Law on Measures against Violence in Family Relations in Albania’s legal code. The most important changes involve how local law enforcement and courts should respond to reports of domestic violence. Police officers now must perform risk assessments after identification of the victim, report the domestic violence cases and issue preliminary protective orders. These preliminary protective orders allow the police to remove the perpetrator of violence from the residence before the court has issued an actual protection order. These new police obligations offer survivors more immediate help, instead of having to wait for the courts to react. Another important change in this law is the prohibition of the reconciliation procedure in court. This policy helps protect women and girls in Albania.
  2. Women’s Shelters During the Pandemic: On April 10, 2020, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection created a protocol that ensured women’s shelters in Albania would function undisrupted among the COVID-19 pandemic. This protocol designated the shelters for domestic violence protection as essential services, which means they must remain open and welcome any new survivors that come in. This is extremely important as the outbreak of the virus has increased the number of reports of domestic violence and violence against women in Albania. Shelters did not remain open and were not accepting women in need of help before the new protocol.
  3. NGO Services in Albania: One NGO in Albania, the Woman Forum Elbasan (WFE), is working extremely hard to adapt to the needs of women during the pandemic. WFE provides free services to survivors of violence, including social, psychological and legal help. WFE also works with police and health professionals in several municipalities of the Elbasan area of Albania to improve the help given to women by local institutions. A grant from the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence against Women funds WFE. During the pandemic, WFE performed almost 300 virtual counseling sessions to survivors in just March and April. Virtual counseling and hotlines are one way that WFE adapted to COVID-19 restrictions, they also use social media to raise awareness about safety measures and protective equipment needed. WFE also operates emergency shelters for victims of violence that is kept clean and disinfected for anyone needing their services.
  4. Institutional Monitoring: Since 2018, the Monitoring Network Against Gender-Based Violence is lobbying, advocating and monitoring the legal and policy framework on ending violence against women in Albania. Established by UN Women, this network is now made up of 48 different organizations. Since being established, they have given numerous recommendations for changes to the Law on Social Housing, Law on Free Legal Aid and the Law on Measures against Violence in Family Relations. These institutions play a crucial role in acting as a voice for Albanian women to the government, police and court systems. The Monitoring Network works to protect and help the situation of women, which is not often on the forefront of the political or social agenda.
  5. Improved Data on Violence against Women: Albania’s latest survey on violence against women and girls, taken in 2018, engaged with service-providers, local governments and civil society organizations to create the most accurate dataset possible. This was the first time widespread consultations on the survey took place. To share the results of the survey, government ministries, municipalities, police forces and other organizations attended workshops on how to understand and use the new information. These workshops helped raise awareness of this significant issue. This new survey is especially important because most police and government surveys about violence against women produced a much lower amount of instances. The survey has also been used as evidence to promote new policies and laws on protecting women in Albania.

Although women and girls in Albania are still experiencing and at risk of facing domestic violence, these recent changes have given more resources to survivors and victims. The Albanian legal code and policies have also shifted to protect more women and girls in Albania, from written laws to the new socio-economic environment forced by COVID-19.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr 

Progress for Maternal and Child Health Outcomes in Albania Located in the Balkan peninsula and nestled between the Adriatic Sea and Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece is the small country of Albania. Following World War II, the nation was a communist state until its transition to democracy succeeding the 1992 presidential election. The transition from a communist state to a democratic republic disrupted economic growth and the ways of life for many Albanian people. The country’s long-standing policy of isolationism contributed to Albania’s slow development, enduring poverty and lack of economic and political stability.

The Albanian Refugee Crisis

In the late 1990s, Albania became host to hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum from violence and political unrest in the neighboring country of Kosovo. The rapid influx of refugees resulted in many Albanian regions becoming overcrowded and under-resourced. The country, already struggling to support its own people, barely coped with the increasingly dire refugee situation. During this time, Albania was recognized as one of the poorest countries in Europe. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line was estimated to be between 30% and 50%. Crime rates were high and social unrest pervaded.

Albania applied for membership in the European Union in 2009 and joined NATO later that same year. In response, the European Union invested $11 million dollars in emergency aid for Albanians, refugees from Kosovo and surrounding countries. Organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Children’s Fund further worked to improve conditions for all people affected by the crisis.

The effects of political upheavals and the refugee crisis impacted many aspects of life for Albanians. Specifically affected were Albania’s healthcare system and the state of maternal and child health in Albania.

Healthcare in Albania

Historically, Albanians have had limited access to healthcare and health services. Prior to World War II, Albania had few foreign-trained physicians and a small number of hospitals and health clinics based predominantly in urban regions. When the country shifted to a communist state, the Soviet model of health was adapted. Health institutions and hospitals were erected but the quality of medical care was poor.

Investments in the health sector decreased in the 1970s. Recurring political upheavals throughout the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the destruction of numerous healthcare facilities and the loss of valuable medical equipment. Immunization programs halted and the quality of basic sanitation services decreased drastically in rural and urban areas of Albania.

Maternal and Child Health in Albania

As a result of inadequate health services, health outcomes are poor in Albania. Mortality rates for communicable, infectious diseases are high. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the region. Albania has also faced ongoing outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Health outcomes for women and children in Albania are similarly poor. Albania’s maternal and infant mortality rates are high. Analysis of mortality trends in Albania between 1989 and 1993 revealed that the infant mortality rate decreased from 9.8% in 1970 to 2.8% in 1990. Infant mortality rates subsequently began to rise steadily following the 1992 transition to democracy.

In rural areas, infant mortality rates are twice as high as those in urban regions of the country. Maternal mortality rates in Albania are four times as high as those in other parts of Europe as a result of poor prenatal care and abortion-related complications. Family planning practices are uncommon, as well as forms of birth control alternative to abortion.

Addressing the Issue

However, Albania has shown significant progress in improving its healthcare system as well as the state of maternal and child health outcomes. Albania’s government has shown initiative in restructuring the existing healthcare system to focus on addressing the leading causes of death and disease. The country has also adopted a progressive approach to improving the standards for the protection of women and children’s right to healthcare.

Albania has focused on increasing the accessibility and quality of neonatal and pediatric primary health care in an effort to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. The nation has implemented additional staffing within women’s and children’s counseling centers and health centers. Albania’s government has partnered with the Ministry of Health to create innovative national health policies that address the needs of the healthcare system, health professionals and Albania’s population. Additional funding and resources have also been allocated to the nation’s health sector.

Further action taken by the Albanian government to improve the state of maternal and child health in Albania includes:

  • Albania signed and ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty outlining the cultural and health rights of children.
  • Albania has begun decentralizing the healthcare system and is ensuring that each village has access to updated and equipped health centers.
  • Albania’s government has adopted a new system of family planning that has improved women’s access to necessary reproductive services.
  • Albania implemented the National Action Plan for Children that increases access to essential health care for mothers and children, works to prevent malnutrition and weight-related disorders, stems the spread of preventable infectious diseases and reduces infection rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Moving Forward Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The current COVID-19 pandemic further puts pressure on Albania’s government and budget to continue ongoing efforts to improve the nation’s healthcare system. International partners as well as Albania’s government continue to work to improve the country’s healthcare system and advocate for the promotion of the rights of women and children. In doing so, the health outcomes of Albanian women and children will progress and the quality of life for all of Albania’s population will better in the years to come.

– Alana Castle
Photo: Flickr


Hunger and starvation are a harsh reality for the Albanian people. The country, for many years, has had a significant portion of the population who are unable to feed themselves and their families. According to the Global Hunger Index, Albania is ranked 28th out of 117 countries struggling with hunger. The Global Hunger Index also gives Albania an overall score of seven. While a score of seven is not incredibly low, according to the Global Hunger Index, it could still be improved. In order to address the impacts of hunger in the country, multiple Albanian organizations are providing support to help their people. Here are three organizations working to positively impact hunger in Albania.

3 Organizations Making a Difference

  1. Nehemiah Gateway is working to reduce hunger in Albania. Nehemiah Gateway originally started in Albania but has expanded to help people in other countries as well. The organization provides not only food parcels, but also medical supplies and social care to people in need in Albania. It is currently running a fundraiser guided toward providing the necessary supplies to starving people in Albania. As of July 29, 2020, the organization has received more than $7,800 in donations out of a $9,000 goal. Nehemia Gateway is still accepting fundraiser donations.
  2. The Children’s Human Rights Center of Albania is another organization pursuing an end to hunger in Albania, especially with respect to youth in the country. Along with addressing hunger, the organization also represents the rights of children in other ways. The organization seeks to make sure the youth of Albania is educated, protected and participates politically within the country. In April of this year, The Children’s Human Rights Center of Albania made news when it made a plea to the European Commission, asking for relief efforts to help 100,000 children who are at risk of starvation. While the request for help has not yet been answered, the human rights center is still committed to fighting for the well being of Albania’s youth.
  3. Food Bank Albania is another organization that has been making extremely focused efforts to help those at risk of hunger. The food bank is based in Albania and its primary concern is making sure the people of the country are fed no matter the circumstances. Food Bank Albania gave an update on its activities during the recent earthquakes as well as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The organization said that, since November of 2019, it has been able to provide people in need in Albania with about 223,000 kg of food. This is equivalent to about 500,000 meals. The organization is also confident that it can provide about 30 to 40 tons of fresh produce to people in need throughout the summer.

Hunger in Albania continues to be a major concern. The country is ranked 28th out of 117 countries struggling with hunger. As a result, a large portion of the population is still in need of help and further support. However, these three Albanian organizations have been resourceful in fighting to make sure that their people remain fed and provided for.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Albania
After the fall of its communist government in 1991, significant political, social and economic challenges confronted Albania. Albania is a country that lies on the Mediterranean Sea and borders Greece. The fall of the Communist Party left the country with high levels of extreme poverty that it needed to address quickly. As the government has transitioned to a constitutional republic and the centrally-planned economy has shifted to an open-market structure, it has also implemented considerable economic plans and reforms. These reforms partially alleviated the severity of the poverty much of the population faced before 1992, but poverty in Albania continued to be a challenge as the country moved forward.

Understanding Poverty in Albania

  • Privatization and a new legal framework were some of the key reforms the government implemented in 1992 that helped to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and strengthen the economy. The privatization of agriculture, which employs 40% of the population, particularly helped alleviate poverty in the rural areas where it is most prevalent. The new legal framework lowered poverty in urban areas by encouraging the private sector activity necessary for an open-market economy.
  • Consistent low-income levels and low administrative capacity are limitations to the success of economic reforms in Albania. The low-income population is particularly susceptible to price fluctuations and unemployment. For this reason, inflation in 1996 and 1997 caused a downturn in the economic growth the country had experienced earlier.
  • Fluctuations in the global economy impact the level of poverty. Remittances – money that Albanians working mostly in Greece and Italy sent back to the country – are a significant component of economic growth. After the 2008 financial crisis, remittances decreased from 15% of the GDP to 5.8% by 2015. Simultaneously, the poverty level in Albania increased from 35.8% in 2008 to 38% in 2017. This definition is the percentage of the population living on less than $5.50 per day, the poverty threshold for upper-middle-income countries. The World Bank classifies Albania as an upper-middle-income country.
  • Low-skill occupations, including agriculture, require lower levels of education and offer little job security yet employ the majority of the working population living in poverty. Those workers then have limited skills relevant to other types of higher-income labor and have constrained potential for social mobility.

Efforts to Alleviate Poverty in Albania

  • Recent growth in labor-intensive sectors has increased the number of potentially higher-income jobs available to Albanians and raised the GDP. Available jobs in textiles, tourism, trade and administrative services have been on the rise since 2013 and contribute to greater economic stability. Tourism, for instance, is one of the fastest-growing industries in Albania. In 2019, the number of foreign visitors increased by 8.1% in comparison to 2018.
  • International investments and donations have grown in recent years. The government has attracted international interest by taking the initiative to encourage economic growth by improving roads and rail networks and introducing plans for economic and legislative reform. These reforms primarily focus on strengthening tax collection and increasing public wages and pensions. They have been successful thus far and the World Bank estimates that the poverty rate has lowered to 37% as of April 2020.
  • Public debt remains high and a potentially significant barrier to the constant growth necessary to sustain Albania’s economy and keep the poverty level steadily decreasing. Although the debt requires a strong fiscal policy response by the government to avoid economic shocks, it has shown a promising 3% decline rate from 2015 to 2018.

Albania’s Partnership with International Organizations

Although not yet a member, Albania received EU candidacy status in June 2014 and officially adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Furthermore, Albania’s government released its National Strategy for Development and (European) Integration 2015-2020 in 2016. It also partnered with the U.N. in Albania to release the Programme of Cooperation for Sustainable Development 2017-2021, a comprehensive plan for sustainable development and alleviation of poverty.

The U.N.’s work in alleviating poverty in Albania and its partnership with Albania’s government has proven to be successful as it has helped achieve sustainable economic development through various reforms. The poverty rate in Albania has shown steady signs of decrease since its peak in 2014. The international community is also supporting the government’s steps to combat poverty in Albania. After a devastating earthquake in November 2019 hindered ongoing efforts for infrastructure improvement and other reforms, Albania’s government received €1 billion in assistance from several international donors during a conference in February 2020.

The U.N. in Albania is just one of the organizations working to fight poverty in Albania through collaboration with the government and other civil society and private sector organizations. Among its goals are Albania’s integration into the EU and the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which should stabilize the country’s economy and ultimately lower the poverty rate.

Looking to the Future

The onset of COVID-19 could strain the government’s resources and ability to continue with these reforms to alleviate poverty in the immediate future. However, the U.N.’s work in Albania, support from international donors and stronger commitments from the government to lower the poverty rate point to an optimistic future of long-term development. This should subsequently lead to economic growth and a steady decrease in the rate of poverty.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr