Elderly Poverty in Bulgaria
“Alone, vulnerable and deprived” is how Galena Stoyanova, a pensioner and lifelong lawyer in Bulgaria, describes living conditions for elderly people in the country, in an interview with The Borgen Project. According to data from the Bulgarian National Social Security Institute (NSSI) in 2021, the total number of pensioners in Bulgaria stood at a little more than 2 million and the average pension was 566 BGN (roughly $300) per month. Data from 2022 shows that 590,000 pensioners receive a pension of 370 BGN (about $200) or less per month. Efforts are underway to address elderly poverty in Bulgaria.

Poverty Among Pensioners

The rising cost of living makes it hard for retirees to keep up and aggravates elderly poverty in Bulgaria. Stoyanova shares that the entirety of the average pensioner’s income goes toward basic needs like food, household bills and medication. Some pensioners have to compromise their health, buying only medicine of the greatest need and not everything prescribed in order to cope with the rising cost of living.

Data by Eurostat reveals that, across the EU, Bulgaria had the highest rates of severe material and social deprivation for people aged 65 and older in 2020. The rate stood at 25.7% compared to an average of 16.5% for those aged between 18 and 64 in Bulgaria.

Political Instability

Stoyanova also says that the asset ceiling of pensions continues to rise while the minimum pension has not budged in years. The political instability and economic uncertainty Bulgaria faces exacerbate living conditions for all, including the elderly.

In June 2022, a no-confidence vote dissolved Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s government. The Petkov-led government stood in power for less than eight months, leading to a second parliamentary election in less than a year.

Bulgaria’s center-right GERB party, which has run the country for 12 years, assumed command once again but is the “target of widespread corruption accusations,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The shifts in the government lead to the economic instability that has an impact on elderly poverty in Bulgaria. The pension system is “fundamentally unstable” and recent pension reforms may worsen this. As an expert in the legal field, Stoyanova says elderly poverty in Bulgaria is an issue that politicians often overlook.

The Baba Residence

An initiative, the Baba Residence, which native Bulgarian Yani Taneva launched, aids isolated elderly people living in low-density villages by connecting them with urban youth. The project’s main goal is to engage young people’s entrepreneurial spirits and connect them with the traditional culture of the elderly by encouraging participants to spend a month living and learning in the villages. So far, the organization has managed to help more than 1,500 citizens across 36 villages.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Militsa Dzhandzhova, manager of the Baba Residence project, shares that project participants created strong bonds with locals and developed original business ideas.

Baba Residence Initiatives

Some of the initiatives include transforming a dysfunctional school into a community center that hosts local photography exhibitions, cooking festivals and textile fairs. The renovation helped bring people to the villages and tackled the isolation that the elderly experience by giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills and even earn money while doing so.

The organization has also helped locals and brought income to pensioners through “a social enterprise for the export of woven products” made by elderly female villagers, a “professional studio recording of a CD with folklore songs… from the Rhodope Mountains” and “many cleaned and newly marked mountain eco-trails” that bring tourists to the rural communities.

The business enterprises present an opportunity to bring a sustainable economic boost into the villages and find new ways to meet urgent needs. All the income the enterprises generate is distributed among the elderly people involved and the initiators of the projects.

Additionally, the campaign “One Percent Change,” introduced by participants, helps meet the basic needs of elderly people living in poverty. The participants installed new window frames in residences to retain heat in homes during the colder months (a total of 25 households benefited from the campaign). Furthermore, about 40 senior villagers received dental prostheses and the upcoming Christmas campaign will provide electronic appliances to 27 homes in Salash village. Overall, the campaigns tackle elderly poverty in Bulgaria and raise awareness of the issue.

Solidarity Between Generations

According to Dzhandzhova, the lack of interaction and engagement between the younger Bulgarian generation and the elderly turns poor people into isolated people.

In accordance with Dzhandzhova’s views, Stoyanova says that the elderly have been forgotten as most of Bulgaria’s youth have moved away from the country, causing demographic issues and leaving behind their compatriots to tackle corruption, injustice, inequality and poverty.

In 2022, the total number of elderly people living in poverty in Bulgaria is more than 306,000. For most of them, pensions play a key part in maintaining a good living standard and are their only source of income. Although initiatives like the Baba Residence certainly make an impact, lasting and significant improvements in the rates of elderly poverty in Bulgaria can only occur through comprehensive governmental policies and social programs that provide adequate support.

– Ralitsa Pashkuleva
Photo: Flickr

Bulgarian Protesters
In mid-November 2022, Bulgarian protesters took to the streets outside the Balkan country’s Parliament building to fight for a livable minimum wage. Increasing inflation sparked the movement, and fears of minimum wage freezes prompted Bulgaria’s two largest employee unions to begin protests calling for raises in the minimum wage. The protests started right before winter because many are experiencing energy poverty and cannot afford to heat homes. Without an increase in the minimum wage, Bulgaria could have thousands, if not millions of its citizens, drop into energy poverty and lose its stance in the “eurozone.”

Bulgarian Minimum Wage

Bulgarian protesters are tackling the issue of minimum wage outside the Parliament building because the minimum wage is crushing the lower classes. Bulgaria has one of the lowest minimum wages in Europe. Bulgaria’s minimum wage is not keeping pace with the continuously-rising inflation, as inflation has effectively outpaced the national wage increases. The minimum wage stands at BGN710 or €362 per month. However, despite the pay increases, due to the amount of taxes taken out of most minimum wage earners’ pay, they only take home about €281.

By 2020, the poverty rate in Bulgaria reached 22.1%. The updated figures show the actual number of Bulgarians in poverty is likely much higher. About 35% of Bulgarians are considered the “working poor,” according to Radio Bulgaria. To be “working poor” one must have a job, work 27+ weeks a year, in the labor force, but still fall below the poverty line. The term “working poor in Bulgaria refers to those supporting themselves on minimum wage.

Bulgaria’s working poor have no way out of their poor status as long as the minimum wage remains as low as it is. With the inadequate pay, many Bulgarians fear the costs of living, specifically energy costs, might increase and force them into “energy poverty.”

Bulgaria’s Energy Poverty

Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy sources and services. It is one of the main causes of Bulgarian protesters taking to the capital. Energy poverty is one of the dominant challenges the Bulgarian government has faced since the Parliamentary and presidential election of 2021, as it is one of the poorest energy nations in Europe. In 2020, 27.5% of Bulgarian homes did not have adequate heating and 22.2% of Bulgarian homeowners and property renters were late or in debt due to overwhelming energy bills.

Bulgaria depends on Russia for 75% of its gas, making it one of the nations most reliant on Russian gas. The European Union held off on implementing the same bans on Russian oil that the U.S. did, but Russia slashed its gas exports and EU members scramble to seek alternate natural gas providers. The oil pipeline transporting Russian gas and oil to Eastern European nations, including Bulgaria, will remain open but with limited quantities. The minimal gas imports are likely to cause gas prices to soar again. Prices have been fluctuating wildly. The EU is in talks to set a cap on Russian gas prices, which the EU will decide on by December 5, 2022.

Until the EU sets that cap, though, Bulgarians dependent on Russian gas while only earning minimum wage will continue to struggle. Fears of living in energy poverty are motivating Bulgarian protesters as they head into the region’s coldest months of the year.

Protests and Their Implications

Bulgarian protesters are led by the nation’s top two labor unions. Bulgaria’s labor unions are a force to be reckoned with and are responsible for a significant number of Bulgaria’s workforce. Around 15% to 17% of Bulgaria’s workforce is involved with labor unions. Nationwide, there are two dominant labor unions, with countless smaller unions covering various employees and their protective needs.

Bulgaria is a member of the EU and is on its way to being a member of the “eurozone.” To be a member of the zone, one must meet four critical criteria: price stability, sustainable public finances, an inflation rate that is not more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate of the three best-performing member states, and exchange-rate stability. Bulgaria met the criteria required to join the eurozone, which should go into effect on January 1, 2024. However, with inflation continuing to rise and a lackluster minimum wage impacting the economy, Bulgaria could lose its spot in the eurozone.

Bulgarian protesters are calling for Parliament to raise the minimum wage before an economic freeze takes hold, Al Jazeera reports. Should a freeze happen, the minimum wage will remain low in the current inflation crisis, and the government will lose its spot in the eurozone. Without an increased minimum wage, Bulgaria’s economy will not have the proper structure to lift its poor citizens out of their financial danger.

Ending poverty for Bulgarians is possible, especially if the government raises the minimum wage, and the efforts to reach this goal earned the attention of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). Bulgaria joined in November 2021, a recent but significant change. The IDA has granted $458 billion to 114 countries through grants with 0% interest. The funds go to programs that decrease poverty and improve the economic status of a nation. Joining the IDA is symbolic of Bulgaria’s progress away from the title of “developing.” Bulgaria’s economy is improving, but inflation and a lower minimum wage could halt any potential improvements. With the IDA’s assistance and a raised minimum wage, Bulgaria has a phenomenal chance of securing those better futures.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDs in BulgariaBulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe bordered by Greece, the Aegean Sea and Turkey to the south, North Macedonia and Serbia to the West, Romania to the North and the Black Sea to the east. Though the fight against HIV/AIDs in Bulgaria has had its ups and downs, the country has made substantial progress during the past 20 years in providing accessible treatment and diagnoses to its citizens.

Demographics

The prevalence of HIV/AIDs in Bulgaria is higher among men than women and new cases are most common in people 30 to 40 years old. By far the most common mode of infection for men and women is sexual contact, representing 89% of all new cases, while the remainder is mostly drug use by a needle. The rate of new cases is also drastically more likely in urban areas, 40% of all new cases being from the capital city Sofia alone. Al Although 17.7% of Bulgaria’s population resides in Sofia, this is still a much higher per capita rate than elsewhere in the country.

History

In 2004, The Global Fund, an international organization sponsored by many private and governmental agencies, provided Bulgaria with significant financial support to expand its fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. With this money, the Bulgarian Government expanded HIV/AIDs resources through its Health Ministry as well as sponsored many NGOs dedicated to implementing wide-reaching services for HIV/AIDs treatment and diagnosis.

While the steady increase in documented AIDs cases since the Global Fund’s intervention might make it seem as if the problem is actually getting worse, this apparent setback is just a result of more widely available testing and is not necessarily indicative of an increase in HIV/AIDs cases. In fact, these measures were largely effective and continue to contribute to the relatively low rate of HIV/AIDs in Bulgaria.

However, due to the country’s success, in 2014 the Global Fund determined Bulgaria was no longer eligible for aid and by 2017 the government spent the remaining Global Fund money. Due to these changes, many NGOs dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDs have either dissolved or shrunk, Politico reported. While the government is doing well in maintaining treatment and diagnoses for its citizens, NGOs were primarily responsible for reaching marginalized and impoverished communities with on-the-ground testing and prevention efforts and the extent of inclusion of these is difficult to determine.

On the Bright Side

The fight against HIV/AIDs in Bulgaria is largely successful even in the absence of Global Fund support. The rate of diagnoses is only 3.7 per 100,000 people as opposed to the EU average of 5.4 per 100,000 people, making it a success story among eastern European countries. Treatment of HIV/AIDs in Bulgaria is also a success with 98% of its infected population receiving antiretroviral therapy, a marked difference from the 68% world average, Radio Bulgaria reported.

Additionally, according to WHO, due to stigma as well as limited access to resources and transportation, many people simply will not or cannot access the treatment or testing they need. By using private, at-home tests, the experimenters sought to circumvent these factors and it showed many people who otherwise would not have had access utilized the at-home option. Projects like this foreground a bright future in the fight against HIV/AIDs in Bulgaria.

Lastly, after observing several similar instances of countries struggling to transition to the absence of support from the Global Fund, the organization revised its policy to account for an adjustment period. These revisions include “investing in the development of robust National Health Strategies, Disease Specific Strategic Plans… and requirements to ensure that Global Fund financed programs can be implemented through country systems.” With these changes, countries dealing with the same process in the future could be better able to maintain their fight against HIV/AIDs.

– Xander Heiple

Photo: Unsplash

Child Poverty in Bulgaria
In 2018, across almost 50% of European Union states, children held the “highest risk of poverty or social exclusion.” More specifically, Bulgaria has the highest rate of child poverty in Europe with more than half of children living in or “at risk of poverty,” according to SOS Children’s Villages. Many factors contribute to child poverty in Bulgaria, including malnutrition and deficiencies, lack of education and child discrimination.

Malnutrition

Malnutrition negatively affects the mental and physiological capacities of children. This can cause poor productivity levels, which can increase the risk of widespread poverty in a country. In 2019, 144 million children younger than five suffered from stunted growth due to inadequate nutrition globally. Children in Bulgaria are especially at risk. Two out of five Bulgarian children do not have access to daily protein-rich meals such as meat, chicken or fish, which equates to a type of material deprivation. In 2017, about 42% of these children became at risk of poverty.

Vitamin deficiencies from food also contribute to child poverty in Bulgaria. Due to low income, many families of low socioeconomic status find themselves searching for energy-dense foods that are often nutrient-poor. Some of these nutrients may include vitamins B and C as well as calcium and iron.

According to a 2013 research study, in the Bulgarian population, 21.3% of individuals are deficient in vitamin D, a vitamin the body uses to build and maintain bones. In a study on vitamin D deficiencies by the McCarrison Society in 2015, “Children adopted from Ethiopia, Peru, India, Bulgaria and Lithuania were at significantly higher risk” of having a vitamin D deficiency than children from other countries. Without adequate vitamin levels, children may not be physically capable of escaping poverty as they may lack the energy and vitality to attend school or work a job.

Lack of Education

Schools in low-income municipalities of Bulgaria struggle to maintain a good quality of education. Even though the Bulgarian government mandates provision of cost-free pre-primary education, many areas do not have the resources to provide this education free of charge. Furthermore, Bulgarian municipalities with limited finances are unable to guarantee sufficient heating in all rooms during the winter. Without the guarantee of high-quality education in an environment conducive to learning, it is difficult for children to escape generational poverty.

The education of parents and family members is also an important factor in child poverty in Bulgaria as higher education can help individuals secure skilled, higher-paying employment opportunities. The Social Assistance Agency reported the abandonment by parents of more than 1,000 Bulgarian children in 2018 and a major factor in many of these cases is low income, among other factors.

In 2017, the parents of 80% of Bulgarian children at risk of poverty had either no education or just primary level education. Furthermore, children in Bulgaria with parents who did not receive tertiary education are five times more likely to endure poverty.

Discrimination

Many young children in need of early childhood care and education (ECCE) are excluded from the system, especially disadvantaged Roma children. Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, has segregated schools for Roma children “where the pass rate is low and the dropout rate high.”

Bulgarian children with disabilities are also at high risk of discrimination in their personal and school lives. They are more likely to face family separation, “live in institutional care” or face exclusion from mainstream schools. In 2018, 90% of the children ages 0-3 in Bulgarian infant homes had a disability. Furthermore, “a poll conducted in September and October 2009 among 2,000 elementary school parents and teachers” in Bulgaria shows that almost 40% of parents think that having a disabled student in their child’s class negatively impacts their child’s education.

SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria

SOS Children’s Villages recognizes the high level of child poverty in Bulgaria and has provided support to vulnerable Bulgarian children and families as early as 1990. The organization works to help children access medical care while helping parents secure jobs to support their families.

The organization provides support to Bulgarian youth by helping them develop skills to achieve independence while they attend “further education or training.” SOS Children’s Villages also empowers unaccompanied refugee and migrant children by helping them secure an education.

Today, SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria works with agencies in three locations and is making a difference in the lives of children across the country. In 2017 alone, SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria was able to help 200 children under family-based care.

Child poverty is a serious issue across Bulgaria with many causes. Malnutrition, lack of education and child discrimination are just some of the factors feeding into the loop of child poverty in the country. However, organizations like SOS Children’s Villages are working to put an end to the high levels of child poverty in Bulgaria.

– Katelyn Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in BulgariaThe impact of COVID-19 globally is undeniable. From Canada to Ukraine, every nation is fighting the virus. Bulgaria is facing a similar battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty. Organizations are fighting to keep both under control while implementing solutions to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria and around the world.

The Fight Against COVID-19

Bulgaria’s first COVID-19 case occurred on May 8, 2020, which was later than many of its neighbors. The Bulgarian parliament quickly went into a state of emergency on May 13, 2020, due partially to the weak healthcare system. Discussions about how to balance the economy and COVID-19 precautions soon started. Despite the government’s best efforts, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria was significant.

The Past Against the Present

Bulgaria’s past has contributed to its present state. Bulgaria became its own independent country in 1908, with the occurrence of World War I six years later. The defeat of Bulgaria in World War I saw the loss of 100,000 people. Twenty years afterward, World War II started, resulting in an eventual Soviet invasion. Communism ruled for the next five years.

These events led to economic unrest for several years. Bulgarians boycotted and protested the crisis several times throughout the years, most recently in 2013. The first protests led to Bulgaria joining the European Union but the transition was rough on living standards. Structural reforms in the late 1990s led to faster growth and better living for Bulgarians, with some economic issues in 2008, 2013 and 2014, despite overall improvement. The impact of COVID-19 on Bulgarian poverty has many experts concerned about a possible relapse into economic decline.

The Virus Against the Economy

The negative impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria began when the country’s economy was doing well. COVID-19 dragged the economy into a recession throughout 2020 and 2021. As a result, poverty in Bulgaria in 2021 could increase before it declines. Job losses and poverty have hit young people especially hard. Bulgaria will take time to recover from the economic shock of COVID-19, according to many experts. Alongside high productivity, experts have emphasized several components that Bulgaria must prioritize for its economic recovery:

  • Optimal use of EU money
  • Reopening of businesses
  • Reducing crime rates
  • More job prospects
  • More educational opportunities

Solutions in the Present

Bulgaria’s long-term recovery will take years, but organizations are currently attempting to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on Bulgarian poverty. SOS Children’s Villages prioritizes the well-being of young people who have suffered the most from poverty in Bulgaria.

SOS Children’s Villages dedicates itself to helping lift children and teenagers out of poverty all over the world. The organization has two bases in Bulgaria — the cities of Sofia and Trjavna. Its focus is on strengthening families, improving care in families and providing support for young people. The organization also promotes advocacy and improves emergency programs for unaccompanied refugee children. Reducing the child poverty rate is the overall goal of SOS Children’s Villages in Bulgaria.

Despite the significant impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria, organizations like SOS Children’s Villages are providing substantial aid. With the continued commitment of organizations, poverty in Bulgaria will reduce and Bulgaria will find its way to economic recovery,

– Audrey Burran
Photo: Flickr

4 Facts about Healthcare in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is culturally diverse and geographically unique. The Balkan nation borders the Black Sea and has Greek, Slavic, Ottoman and Persian influences. Still suffering from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis; however, Bulgaria is the most impoverished country in the European Union based on GDP per capita. The Eastern European country has seen both success and shortcomings in attempting to address healthcare outcomes. Here are four facts about healthcare in Bulgaria.

4 Facts About Healthcare in Bulgaria

  1. Spending on healthcare in Bulgaria is low. In 2018, the Bulgarian healthcare budget was approximately $2.2 billion, or 4.3% of the Bulgarian GDP. As one of the lowest spenders in Europe, the system in Bulgaria relies on out-of-pocket payments. This is problematic because it limits access to healthcare, particularly for those living in poverty. Moreover, external development is not helping solve the problem. Such sources provide only one percent of the total health funds in Bulgaria.
  2. There have been gradual improvements in healthcare outcomes. Despite low spending levels, healthcare outcomes in Bulgaria have been progressively improving. Life expectancy in Bulgaria has been increasing throughout the past four decades. Between 2000 and 2015, the Bulgarian life expectancy increased by 3.1 years. The death rate for circulatory system diseases has also declined since 2000, following its peak in the 1990s. While Bulgaria has been making progress in these areas, the most significant is related to infant mortality rates. In 2000, the infant mortality rate was 13.3 per 1,000 live births, but the rate decreased to 6.6 in 2015. The neonatal mortality rate also decreased, roughly halving between 1980 to 2015.
  3. Healthcare in Bulgaria is financed by both public and private sources. In order to generate funds, Bulgaria employs a mixed-finance system. While the government covers some portions of healthcare, private sources finance many procedures. There is a rough balance, with 57.8% of total health expenditures from public finances and 42.2% from private sources. The percent of private expenditures, however, is increasing at a faster rate than public expenditures. On the public side, the most significant health service purchase is the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF). While citizens are free to purchase additional insurance packages, “less than 3% of the population purchased some form of voluntary health insurance in 2020.”
  4. Healthcare in Bulgaria is undermined by a dwindling healthcare workforce. The overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated one of the most significant struggles of healthcare in Bulgaria: there simply aren’t enough healthcare workers. While Bulgaria has received substantial investment from international organizations like the European Union to upgrade medical infrastructure, these funds do little to ensure Bulgaria has a thriving healthcare workforce. At present, thousands of Bulgarian healthcare workers are finding better-paying jobs in Western Europe. Kristina Macneva, an emergency doctor that has stayed in Bulgaria, explains that “the main problem is the lack of medical staff” and that they are in “dire need.”

Looking Ahead

Though great strides have been made in healthcare in Bulgaria, more work still needs to be done to ensure all citizens are receiving quality care. Moving forward, it is essential that the government devotes more resources to healthcare in the nation.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bulgaria
Today, human trafficking in Bulgaria exploits both foreigners and Bulgarian citizens in an ongoing trade for sex, free labor and forced begging. This small Eastern European country is one of the main sources of human trafficking in the entire E.U. Traffickers transport people, mostly women, from Bulgaria to Sweden, France and other countries in Western Europe.

The Status of Human Trafficking in Bulgaria

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons tracks countries’ efforts to eradicate this form of “modern slavery,” and sets worldwide standards to follow. A 2020 report noted that while Bulgaria does not yet meet the minimum international standards to eliminate trafficking, the country is making immense progress. As a result, Bulgaria has a Tier 2 standing.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the tier system comprises of three tiers:

  • Tier 1: A government complies fully with the minimum requirements to eliminate severe forms of human trafficking.
  • Tier 2: A government does not comply fully with minimum requirements, but is making significant efforts to do so.
  • Tier 3: A government does not comply and is not making efforts to do so.

The People’s Struggle

The majority of victims of human trafficking in Bulgaria are from marginalized communities, most often Bulgarians of Turkish and Romani descent. These communities are more vulnerable than other groups because of their minority status, prolific poverty and history of discrimination in the country.

Even now, many European countries discriminate against Roma in particular. Reliable numbers of Roma and other marginalized communities are difficult to find, as these populations are often disincentivized from self-identifying. Estimates put the current percentage of Roma in Bulgaria anywhere from 5% to 21%. However, Bulgaria has one the largest populations of Roma in the world.

Despite this exposure to the culture, anti-Roma attitudes are prevalent and widely accepted. The prejudice against them exacerbates poverty and restricts access to health care and education, leading to higher rates of incarceration and greater vulnerability to crimes such as human trafficking.

Fighting for Human Rights

While the Bulgarian government struggles to initiate policies that ensure due process for human traffickers, accountability for corrupt law enforcement and proper victim identification, other contenders do their best to pick up the slack. NGOs and nonprofit organizations across Europe recognize the human rights crisis in Bulgaria and are stepping up to the plate.

In 1994, two women founded the Animus Association to support women who survive traumatic and violent events. Today, it organizes projects aimed at successful communication and gender equality in Bulgaria.

In a recent project dubbed TOLERANT, the Animus Association partnered with programs in Greece, Romania, Italy and Austria to promote employment opportunities for women who experienced sex trafficking. This project, though set back with the emergence of COVID-19, inspired the installation of a permanent program called the National Program for Prevention and Counteraction to Human Trafficking and Protection of Victims.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgaria’s largest human rights group, runs a variety of projects and campaigns prioritizing respect, the protection of vulnerable populations and informing the public on important issues. In some cases, the committee provides free legal aid to victims of human rights violations. In 2019 alone, the committee represented people in 64 different cases. One of these was a case representing a minor victim of gang rape. It also closely monitors human rights violations in the country for documentation and research.

These organizations, along with many others, are the people’s tools for abolishing human rights crises like human trafficking in Bulgaria and all of Europe. Similar to the ACLU or NAACP of the U.S., programs that begin as small grassroots movements can grow to influence governments on a national and even international scale.

Power to Heal

While some organizations focus directly on the issues at hand, others take a more nuanced and preventative approach. Programs like the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) support disadvantaged communities by giving them a voice. ERIAC regularly provides opportunities for jobs and access to symposiums and events specifically for Roma. Through the celebration of art, history and culture, individuals become empowered to affect change and positive development in their own communities.

As communities begin to heal from the generational and ongoing trauma, the hope is to continue that healing outwards. ERIAC founders believe that exposure to art, personal narratives and examples of success will decrease prejudice and ignorance by educating the wider population. In addition to providing a platform for artists, all membership fees go directly to the winner of the Tajsa Prize. ERIAC awards this prize annually to an emerging artist who embodies the aspirations of ERIAC, using their art to lift up their communities.

There is a long way to go before Bulgaria eradicates human trafficking, but in the meantime, Bulgarian citizens are finding their own ways to combat this violence. Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations are emerging to do the work that needs doing, advocating for the country’s citizens in a myriad of ways. Healing can happen even in the midst of adversity, and the amplification of the voices and culture of survivors is an essential part of this process.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

6 Facts About Healthcare In BulgariaBulgaria is an Eastern European country south of Greece, north of Romania and east of the Black Sea. With a population of 7 million and cultural influence from the Ottoman Empire, Greece and Persia, Bulgaria has a unique and diverse background. Health care is a vital aspect of European life and Bulgaria is no different. Here are six facts about healthcare in Bulgaria.

6 Facts About Healthcare In Bulgaria

  1. Bulgaria has Centralized Healthcare. Healthcare in Bulgaria is largely centralized, with the National Assembly, the National Health Insurance Fund and the Ministry of Health standing as the main funders. Social single-payer healthcare is monitored through the NHIF, which covers services included in the benefits package and certain medications. Voluntary healthcare is administered by for-profit insurance companies and deals with both the citizens and providers. These systems, working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, fund services including emergency care, in-patient mental health care and the development of medical science. The amount of money spent on healthcare in Bulgaria continues to rise, but fees for citizens remain the same.
  2. The Bulgarian Healthcare System Suffers Overcrowding. In 2016, Bulgaria had slightly more than 321 hospitals and less than 50,000 hospital beds as the population was continuing to grow. This led to a severe overcapacity of the healthcare system. Highly more than 5.5% of working adults serve in the healthcare field. While the number of physicians has increased, the number of general practitioners is limited. This is partly due to aging and the ongoing emigration problem. The ratio of nurses is the worst in the EU with just 1.1 nurses per physician. Overall, healthcare in Bulgaria faces challenges such as a lack of medical equipment and healthcare providers.
  3. Overall Health is on the Rise. The primary causes of death in Bulgaria are the same as in most European countries: Circulatory diseases, such as coronary heart failure, strokes and cancers. Despite this, the standardized death rates for circulatory diseases have been steadily decreasing since the 1990s. Deaths by ischaemic heart disease fell by 30% from 2014 to 2015 and cancer deaths have been on the decline for more than a decade. This positive trend is due to improved healthcare in Bulgaria and better lifestyle choices.
  4. The Population is Declining. The Bulgarian population has been declining from 9 million at the end of the 1980s to fewer than 7 million by 2018. The primary reason is a low birthrate, compounded by a high rate of emigration. In 2015, more than 13,000 citizens were leaving the country compared with only 9,000 foreigners entering. However, most Bulgarians end up immigrating to other European countries, with more than 60,000 Bulgarians migrating each year. One reason for emigration is that the country is one of the most impoverished nations within the European Union, with most citizens unable to support themselves and healthcare in Bulgaria being difficult to access.
  5. Bulgaria is Well Behind the Rest of the EU. Although healthcare in Bulgaria is good by some measures, the country is far behind the rest of the European Union. The quality of work is so low that protesters have taken to the streets to stand up against low wages, corruption and high bills. This led to the Bulgarian government resigning, causing more economic instability within the country. The unemployment rates are lower than in crisis-ridden nations; however, because of low wages, more Bulgarians are considering moving to Greece and Spain, which have higher unemployment rates. In 2015, Bulgaria stood as the unhappiest country in the EU, according to a survey.
  6. Bulgaria’s Increased Healthcare Spending. Healthcare in Bulgaria is taking a hard hit due to the novel coronavirus, with an increase in healthcare spending by 250 million leva or €123 million. Half of the increased spending will go to the National Health Insurance Fund, which manages insurance and distributes funds to the healthcare system. A significant portion of the money will go to increasing the salaries of frontline medical staff until the end of the year as well as health personnel in state institutions.

Although Bulgaria is far behind the rest of the European Union in many different ways, Bulgaria is a progressive nation with universal healthcare and low hospital bills. With more investments in general practitioners and healthcare facilities as well as better living conditions and incentives to keep citizens in the country, Bulgaria can progress toward health and prosperity.

– Breanna Bonner
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Bulgaria
The past three decades have resulted in a fluctuating economy within Bulgaria. Specifically, the global financial crisis of 2008 has left the country with insolvency. Despite this hardship, Bulgaria continues to rise on the Global Competitiveness Report, coming in at 49 out of 144 countries. Advancements in the information communications technology (ICT) sector has played a large part in their resiliency and may be the key to innovations in poverty eradication in Bulgaria.

The Global Competitiveness Report

The Global Competitiveness Report measures a number of pillars. Since the implementation of its national strategy for poverty eradication in Bulgaria in 2015, Bulgaria has significantly improved its Global Competitiveness Report ranking in the 12th pillar: innovation capability. In 2015, it ranked 94 out of 140 countries. In 2019, its ranking jumped to 48 out of 141 countries.

In 2018, the Global Competitiveness Report added an additional pillar for ICT adoption. Bulgaria currently ranks 30 out of 141 countries on this pillar. From 2016 to 2018, there was a 300% growth in the Bulgarian ICT workforce. To paint a more detailed picture, the industry went from 5,000 to 20,000 workers.

What is ICT?

People may best know Bulgaria for its software industry, namely educational software, financial services software, analytical software and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) management software. Of the E.U. members, many regard Bulgaria as having the best performing ICT sector. In addition, Bulgaria houses approximately 10,000 ICT companies. This may be due to the low corporate tax rates of 10%.

ICT Organizations for Marginalized Citizens

A subsequent factor of poverty is social exclusion. Gaps in employment and educational opportunities create social barriers for poverty-ridden areas. Despite 71% of Bulgarian homes having access to high-speed internet, only 41% of citizens have basic computer skills. The following organizations have devoted themselves to mending this gap:

  • Telerik Academy: Telerik Academy is a free educational program for Bulgarian citizens that teaches computer literacy and key digital competencies for careers in the ICT software sector. Its founders, Svetozar Georgiev, Boyko Iaramov, Vassil Terziev and Hristo Kosev, created Telerik Academy in 2009 as a way to train people for their company’s ICT needs. Shortly after, Telerik expanded its services to reach anyone wanting to develop skills for future ICT careers. Telerik Academy has serviced over 115,000 Bulgarian children and professionals in its first 10 years.
  •  The Bulgarian Centre for Women in Technology (BCWT): The Bulgarian Centre for Women in Technology (BCWT) is another important organization in the ICT sector. Since its start in 2012, the BCWT has devoted its efforts to diminishing gender stereotypes in the ICT realm by motivating females to pursue careers in science and technology. In 2015, Bulgaria had the highest percentage of EU female ICT workers with 27.7%. The BCWT has a number of past and ongoing initiatives that have contributed to this ranking. Enterpregirl, for example, is a competition that invites young Bulgarian women to present their innovative ICT-related projects. The goal is to develop confidence in young women’s entrepreneurship skills in a field that has been historically reserved for men.

Bulgaria’s ICT sector has remained on a steady incline for the past five years, with no intention of slowing down. Bulgaria’s growing software industry proves to aid with innovations in poverty eradication. Organizations like Telerik Academy and BCWT are crucial in closing the employment and educational gaps that ultimately fortify poverty. Despite the country’s insolvency, Bulgaria remains dedicated to poverty eradication in Bulgaria through ICT education and opportunities.

– Sage Ahrens-Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is 
a small nation off of the west coast of the Black Sea. It faced a dramatic government shift in the early 1990s. In 2007, Bulgaria joined the European Union (EU) in hopes of prolonged prosperity. Instead, studies show that Bulgarian citizens are the least happy in the EU. This is the result of many social issues and lifestyle changes over the past couple of decades, but the largest factor that surrounds the dark atmosphere of Bulgaria is its struggling economy. In addition, because of its minimum wage, poverty is still prevalent in Bulgaria.

Economic Growth

After transitioning to an open market system in the early 1990s, Bulgaria has seen extreme growth in its economy. Its GDP has been rising over the last three decades. Additionally, there have been increases in the average salary, improved working conditions and developments in finance technology. Moreover, Bulgaria is currently in a demographic dividend. This means that the majority of its population is of the working-class age and is contributing to the economy through employment. According to the OECD, the “working age” refers to the population of individuals aged 15-64.

Minimum Wage and Poverty in Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in the European Union at BGN 610 per month, or $350.4 in the United States. Many common jobs reside within low-skilled labor, such as security guards, factory workers or shop assistants. Poverty in Bulgaria reached a prevalence rate of 7.5% in 2017. Based on a population of nearly 7 million people, this means approximately 525,000 Bulgarians were living on less than the U.S. $5.5 each day. For unemployed citizens, the government subsidizes up to 60% of their income. However, it is not always a stable amount and can range from BGN 9 to BGN 74.29 per day (equivalent to U.S. $5.20 and $42.90, respectively).

Solutions

The World Bank is working to reduce poverty in Bulgaria through a plan established and verified in 2019. This plan aims to strengthen the nation’s disaster risk management program, follow efforts to combat climate change, improve air quality and increase access to clean water. Additionally, risk management will help to overcome economic issues and a recession predicted by the World Bank as a result of COVID-19. Even as unemployment rates increase due to COVID-19, the Bulgarian economy is protected by a product that is unlikely to decrease in value in the near future– petroleum. Petroleum is Bulgaria’s top export and brought the nation nearly $2 billion in 2018. As it becomes scarcer, the price will increase, leading the nation into a sustainable economic boost.

Telerik Academy School is combating poverty in Bulgaria from the ground up by offering free courses in computer science for students ages 7-18. This is especially important as Bulgaria becomes more technologically advanced every day and jobs in computer science become more valuable. Telerik’s mission is to instruct computer expertise at a young age. This will help develop and instill creativity, innovation and logic in younger generations. This will pave the way for their success as adults. Along with coding lessons, Telerik offers programs in Game Development and Algorithmic Programming. Since its establishment in 2002, the academy has earned more than 250 medals and awards. Telerik Academy School reached over 12,000 students and plans to instruct 12,000 more by the end of 2024.

The issues surrounding poverty in Bulgaria can not be fixed overnight. However, the country’s long-term economic growth, government transformation and social improvements will rise to the challenge of implementing policies and enacting changes that benefit its citizens. Small nonprofits across the nation assist in fighting poverty in creative ways that enable them to develop sustainably.

Becca Blanke
Photo: Flickr