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. Healthcare is a vital aspect of European life and Bulgaria is no different. Here are facts about healthcare in this country.

Bulgaria Has Centralized Healthcare

Healthcare in Bulgaria is largely centralized, with the National Assembly, the National Health Insurance Fund, and the Ministry of Health being 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 developing medical science. The amount of money spent on healthcare in Bulgaria continues to rise, but fees for citizens are staying the same.

The Bulgarian Healthcare System is Overcrowded

In 2016, Bulgaria had just over 321 hospitals and less than 50,000 beds as the population was continuing to grow. This led to a severe overcapacity of the healthcare system. Just over 5.5 % of working adults serve in the healthcare field. While the number of physicians has increased, general practitioners have been on the decline. This is partly due to aging and the ongoing emigration problem. The number of nurses has continued to be the EU’s worst rate with just 1.1 nurses per physician. Overall, healthcare in Bulgaria faces challenges such as a lack of medical equipment and healthcare providers.

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 and 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 over a decade. This positive trend is due to improved healthcare in Bulgaria and better lifestyle choices.

The Population is Declining

The Bulgarian population has been declining from nine million at the end of the 1980s to fewer than seven million by 2018. The primary reason is a low birthrate, compounded by a high rate of emigration. In 2015, over 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 0ver 60,000 Bulgarians migrating each year.

One reason for emigration is that the country is the poorest within the European Union, with most citizens unable to support themselves and healthcare in Bulgaria being difficult to access.

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 protests have taken to the streets against low wages, corruption, and high bills. This led to the 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 that have higher unemployment rates. Bulgaria is often referred to as the unhappiest country in the EU.

Bulgaria’s Increased Healthcare Spending

Healthcare in Bulgaria has been heavily altered by the novel coronavirus, with an increase in healthcare spending by 250 million leva or 123 million euros. Half of the increased spending will go to the National Health Insurance Fund that 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 medical and other health personnel state institutions dealing with the pandemic.

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 increase the population, healthcare in Bulgaria will be stronger than ever.

– 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 still prevalent in Bulgaria.

Economic Growths

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 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 prevalent rate of 7.5% in 2017. Based on a population of nearly seven 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 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 everyday and jobs in computer science become more valuable. Telerik’s mission is to instructing 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 over 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

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in BulgariaThe initial and commonly held definition of energy poverty is a lack of access to energy sources; therefore, Bulgaria is free of energy poverty. According to the research organization Our World in Data, 100% of Bulgarians had access to energy as of 2016. However, if we expand the definition of energy poverty to include factors like energy efficiency and access to clean fuels, Bulgaria has a severe energy poverty issue. This article will discuss seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria.

Limited Access to Information

Data on energy poverty in Bulgaria is limited. However, a 2018 report by the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory stated that Bulgaria performs worse than the EU average on certain measurements, including the percentage of households that could keep their homes adequately warm in 2017. A 2014 report from the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) stated that more than 67% of Bulgarians went without sufficient heat in winter 2008 because they couldn’t afford it. The EU average was 8%.

The IAEE report noted that “specific measures and social policies” for three key factors of energy poverty in Bulgaria are “ineffective.” These include low income, high energy prices and poor-quality buildings because they focus on a limited part of the population with a limited standard of heat. What’s more, the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index by data firm OpenExp ranked Bulgaria last of all EU nations for a set of factors including energy expenditures, winter discomfort, summer discomfort and quality of dwellings. These and other sources delve into the factors behind these rankings and into Bulgaria’s energy poverty issue in general.

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in Bulgaria

  1. Energy poverty has been linked to a state of post-socialist recovery. According to the book “Energy Poverty in Eastern Europe: Hidden Geographies of Deprivation” by Stefan Buzar, energy poverty has emerged across former communist/Soviet Union nations. In fact, half of the modern six nations that partly comprise the communist Eastern Bloc and are now EU members rank in the bottom 10 of the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index.
  2. Incomes are too low even for relatively low energy prices. Even though energy prices are low compared to other EU countries, Bulgarians’ incomes are proportionally low. The IAEE noted 22% of Bulgaria’s population were living in poverty in 2012/2013. That equated to around 1.6 million people. At that time, the nation’s minimum salary was 158 Euros per month, but it had an average salary of 408 per month. As such, based on the U.K.’s definition of fuel poverty, residents spent at least 10% of their household income to heat their homes to an acceptable level of warmth. Typical Bulgarians were fuel poor from at least 1999 through 2012, according to National Statistical Institute data.
  3. The expense issue is also due to inefficient energy use and resources. For one, homes are not well-built for heating. A 2012 report showed the construction of 65% of existing homes occurred before 1990. At least 800,000 residences were prefabricated buildings. The kinds of homes have poor thermal insulation. In Bulgaria, daytime winter temperatures average 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, electricity accounts for 42% of Bulgarian energy consumption sources, instead of the much cheaper source of gas. This is partly because Bulgaria has an underdeveloped gas supply network.
  4. Residents have protested prices more than once. Protests over high electricity bills erupted in 2013 despite a mild, and thus less expensive, 2012 winter. The government responded by refraining from letting prices increase the next year. However, in 2018, thousands took to streets in several cities to protest high fuel prices.
  5. To save money, Bulgarians have turned to dangerous alternative heating sources to electricity. In addition to protests, Bulgarians fight high electricity expenses by measures that risk their quality of life. They underheat their homes or rely on coal and wood. This causes more air pollution, according to the Palgrave Macmillan book “Energy Demand Challenges in Europe.”
  6. Energy poverty in Bulgaria is widespread. The EU Energy Poverty Observatory reported that “some socio-economic groups are known to be particularly vulnerable to energy poverty.” However, that is not the only factor. Location, which energy carrier the people have access to and the housing situation can all play a part.
  7. The Bulgarian government is making at least some effort. The Energy Efficiency Act created the Bulgarian Energy Efficiency and Renewable Sources Fund (EERSF) to support and finance energy efficiency projects in the country. It hopes to increase renewable energy sources for residence and public buildings. Hydrothermal, geothermal and solar energy are among those eligible to receive funds.

These seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria show that it is a real issue despite the country’s World Bank status as an upper-middle-income nation. Too many people can’t afford to properly heat their homes. Due to a lack of access to gas, people must use the more expensive option of electricity or simply underheat their homes. But, there’s hope for the future as government programs exist to offset the problem.

Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

Burden of COVIDThe most recent pandemic has wreaked havoc on countries all over the world and has stagnated, or even reversed progress in many developing communities. While officials have been trying to reduce the number of cases worldwide, there have also been many tech developments that help alleviate the burden of COVID-19. Various apps and websites allow us to spread information, contact-trace and even enforce quarantine.

6 Ways Technology Helps Alleviate the Burden of COVID-19

  1. Afghanistan- Without proper guidance, misinformation can spread like wildfire and can be deadly. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Health joined forces with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology to create software that provides health information to Afghani citizens. Corona.asan.gov.af translates virus updates and information into three different languages, making it easily accessible for all people.
  2. Bulgaria- Local IT developers created a free app that connects citizens to health authorities to help ease the burden of COVID-19. Users verify their identity and can input various symptoms they are experiencing. A doctor will then review their symptoms and decide whether or not to send the patient to the closest medical facility for treatment. In addition to this, the app also can predict the future growth and spread of the virus. The developers are also willing to sell the software to other countries for a symbolic one euro.
  3. Germany- A Berlin-based tech startup created an initiative that would work on Android devices in developing countries throughout South America and North Africa. The project, called #AppsFightCovid would display health information on popup ads that already exist on different apps. The ads take info from the WHO website and advocate for frequent hand washing and wearing a mask in public. Because of these efforts, underdeveloped communities now have access to important COVID-19 information.
  4. Mexico- The Mexico City government created a screening service that determines how likely a user is to contract the coronavirus. The website also features a map that displays the closest hospitals and how much space is available in each of them. People can also filter the map based on whether they need a general care bed or a ventilator bed. In addition, users can input their symptoms and determine whether or not they require hospitalization. This helps alleviate the burden of COVID by reducing the number of unnecessary hospital patients during a global pandemic.
  5. United Nations- It is extremely difficult to get access to personal protective equipment and accurate information, especially for developing countries. Because of this, the U.N. partnered with the WHO and launched the Tech Access Partnership or TAP. This initiative helps reduce the burden of COVID by connecting expert manufacturers with developing manufacturers in poorer countries all over the world to share resources, knowledge and technical expertise. TAP will also aid countries in creating affordable and safe technology.
  6. Argentina- In hopes of reducing the number of coronavirus cases, a company is looking into enforcing quarantining and social distancing through a tracking app, though it is not yet operational. This would be a way to prevent the spread of COVID since the app would send an alert each time a person leaves their home. In addition, the Argentinian Ministry of Health created an application that allows people to evaluate their symptoms and see whether or not they require hospitalization.

 

Though the novel coronavirus has thrown us all for a whirlwind, many countries are doing their part to alleviate the burden of COVID by using technology. Whether it is through self-assessing symptoms, tracking hospitals or enforcing quarantine, government officials everywhere are trying to flatten the curve through the use of technology.

– Karin Filipova
Photo: Unsplash

Measles in Bulgaria
Though the increased distribution of vaccines has nearly eradicated measles around the world, countries have recently seen returning outbreaks. Bulgaria’s outbreak is one of the worst. However, the nation is working to control the measles outbreak with the help of vaccinations and strict government procedures. Here are the top 7 facts about measles in Bulgaria.

7 Facts About Measles in Bulgaria

  1. Between 2009 and 2011, Bulgaria faced a sizable measles outbreak after not reporting any cases since 2001. This outbreak was the largest in Bulgaria since 1992. All regions in Bulgaria were affected and a total of 24,364 cases were reported during this time.
  2. The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Bulgarian National Programme for the Elimination of Measles and Congenital Rubella Infection managed the outbreak well. Both teams contacted physicians who reached out to families and educated them on the importance of timely vaccinations. These teams also advised the hospitalization of patients with measles to avoid spreading the disease to the community.
  3. Following the outbreak, the MoH distributed information about measles prevention to the national media. MoH also distributed educational materials on measles to all Bulgarians. These efforts made families in remote areas aware of the vaccinations their children should receive.
  4. Bulgaria’s measles vaccine was introduced in 1969, and the second dose was introduced in 1983. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 94 percent of the Bulgarian population had received the first dose, and more than 89 percent had received the second. Following the 2009 outbreak, health officials distributed the vaccine to those aged 13 months to 20 years who had not yet received the two doses. It also became available to those over the age of 30 who were in need of it.
  5. Children that have parents with low education levels have less access to vaccinations. This was found by a study performed by the European Journal of Public Health. Although Bulgaria has consistent access to measles vaccinations, the education level of parents appears to have an impact on vaccination access. In a survey of 206 Bulgarians from the region of Burgas, the mean number of years of education mothers completed was 5.20, while fathers on average completed 7.02. 40.8 percent of children surveyed had no measles vaccination, 45.1 percent received a single dose and only 12.1 percent received a second dose.
  6. Along with other standard, up-to-date vaccinations, measles vaccines are required by the CDC for all travelers visiting Bulgaria. This measure is to protect not only the traveler but also vulnerable Bulgarians. It also helps ensure that measles does not make its way to other countries.
  7. Bulgarians are required to notify health officials if they have measles. The Regional Inspection for Prevention and Control of Public Health (RIPCPH) and the National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (NCIPD) are then notified. The sooner individuals report cases, the sooner national health organizations can prevent outbreaks. Health officials also proactively study the demographics of measles patients to figure out where the disease came from and other risk factors.

Though Bulgaria’s recent measles outbreaks are distressing, the country has worked hard to protect as many people as possible. Additional efforts are aimed towards preparedness for the possibility of future outbreaks of measles in Bulgaria. With an increase in vaccines and a focus on the disease by medical professionals, Bulgaria will be able to keep measles under control.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pexels

Sanitation in Bulgaria
Situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, Bulgaria has continually struggled to secure basic services for its people. An improvement came when Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007. Amid this positive step, however, it became clear that Bulgaria’s wastewater treatment and sanitation system was below E.U. standards. The latest situational analysis on equal access to water sanitation in Bulgaria shows that there are 10 significant areas for improvement. Bulgaria must address these issues in order to ensure pure water and high-quality sanitation to the entire country. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bulgaria.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Bulgaria

  1. The water and sanitation network in Bulgaria is decades old. Iskar is the largest reservoir in Bulgaria. Located near the country’s capital, Sofia, it collects about 675 million cubic meters of water. Built in 1954, it is one of the oldest reservoirs. Bulgaria built most of its water network between the 50s and the late 80s. In 1990, however, the political regime changed from communism to democracy and the new government abandoned all infrastructure projects. As a result, one-third of Bulgarians suddenly lacked a reliable water supply and sewage network.
  2. Bulgaria does not recycle its wastewater. Even though two-thirds of the Bulgarian population has access to a wastewater network, only 57 percent possess access to a wastewater treatment plant. This means that large amounts of household water do not receive treatment and households reuse it. In other words, Bulgaria does not engage in the recycling of wastewater. This is not the case in other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Spain, where recycled water goes towards agriculture, groundwater recharge and ecological enhancement.
  3. Bulgaria’s water supply pipes contain asbestos-cement. The World Bank reports that Bulgaria’s existing water network is extremely outdated. On average, water supply pipes in Bulgaria are 36 years old and most comprise of asbestos-cement. The majority of developed countries have discontinued the use of asbestos in building materials, due to its cancer-causing properties. Several developing countries, however, continue to use asbestos-containing materials. Moreover, Bulgaria’s non-revenue water rate—water that is produced and then lost or unaccounted for before it reaches the desired target— is close to 60 percent, resulting in an even more unstable water supply network.
  4. People suffer from water rationing. As a result of outdated water networks, lack of strategic wastewater collection and expenditure in treatment systems, a significant number of people suffer from seasonal water rationing and lack of sanitation. The people in the North-East regions of Bulgaria suffer the most. They experience frequent water rationing throughout the year and high prices of water supply and sanitation. Additionally, 37 percent of the population does not have access to wastewater treatment. Furthermore, 24 percent of the population lives in areas with no wastewater collection systems at all. These staggering statistics require significant funding to ensure that water quality and sanitation services comply with the requirements of the E.U. directives.
  5. Most Bulgarians in rural areas do not have access to sanitation. According to the National Statistical Institute, 25 percent of Bulgarians, the majority of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to sanitation. These areas spread to 81 percent of the country’s territory and 39 percent (as of 2014) of the population, meaning that most of these regions also lack adequate sewage disposal. The Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD), the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) and the Operational program for rural development funded centralized sewerage systems in a number of rural areas. While considered a positive step, the funding ultimately only benefited villages with municipal centers.
  6. Roma communities suffer the most from the lack of proper sanitation. Bulgaria’s compliance with the E.U. standards proved a difficult task in 2007 and, unfortunately, this challenge still continues today. The overall lack of balance between living conditions in rural and urban areas, as well as a lack of public policies regarding living conditions, enhance the challenge. For example, Bulgaria does not possess a national policy for addressing illegal neighborhoods (ghettos). These mostly Roma-populated neighborhoods do not possess access to centralized sewerage systems, water treatment plants 0r wastewater tanks. The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on Roma Inclusion (2012-2020), a document that Bulgaria implemented from 2012 to 2020, seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups and promote their full inclusion in society. While the document grants Roma families access to public social housing, the measure falls short of solving the problem in its entirety. It ultimately leaves more than 400,000 people in Roma ghettos.
  7. Masterplans for water and sanitation services are corrupt. A situational analysis on equal access to water and sanitation in Bulgaria states that: “Financial mechanisms have been subject to significant trade in influence and corruption, so the investments have achieved very low efficiency.” Experts from the Earth Forever Foundation made a comparative analysis of the validity of the data used in the masterplans for sustainable water and sanitation services in three villages in Central Bulgaria. The analysis revealed that the regional plans provide inadequate wastewater removal. Furthermore, the regional plans utilize treatment measures that not only fail to comply with legislation but also stubbornly remain unaffordable for the general population.
  8. Bulgaria and the World Bank are collaborating to solve water supply and sanitation problems. To tackle these problem areas, the government voted on a new ambitious plan regarding the water supply and sanitation issues. In 2016, the Bulgarian government and the World Bank worked together on the Country Partnership Framework for Bulgaria. The document focuses on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of essential public service delivery, including improved water supply and sanitation.
  9. Approximately 99 percent of Bulgarians have access to a clean water supply. Thanks to the collaborative efforts, Bulgaria now shows significant improvements. According to the latest report from the Ministry of Regional Development, centralized water supply now spans 99 percent of Bulgaria. At present, a centralized water supply covers 5,000 towns and villages. Currently, only two areas do not receive full coverage from the central water supply. In response to those two areas, the government has created a strategy to cover the needs of the outstanding 1 percent. A new law, part of the next strategic plan (2024-2033), seeks to further improve the country’s sanitation network.
  10. Bulgarian schools teach clean water supply and sanitation. To educate the new generations, Regulation No. 13 of 21.09.2016 on Civil, Health, Environmental and Intercultural Education included new topics in Bulgarian public school curriculum. Subjects added include healthy lifestyles, water usage and conservation, waste/water waste management and composting. Designed to help students recognize the importance of nature conservation, these subjects focus on water pollution reduction, clean water preservation and recycling.

Over the last 13 years, Bulgaria has exhibited slow, yet promising progress towards achieving the U.N. goals for universal access to water and sanitation. The country continues to strive to comply with the E.U. standards for clean water supplies and wastewater treatment. The new challenge for Bulgaria is to establish baseline measures for the fairness of access to water and sanitation through the Equitable Access Score-Card, a process of self-assessment. This self-assessment focuses on “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” by 2030.

Olga Uzunova
Photo: Flickr