Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina
When it comes to feminine hygiene, many people bow out of the conversation. It tends to be a forgotten issue because of the taboo nature of the problem. Period poverty refers to the struggle that many women go through when they cannot afford to buy feminine hygiene products. According to MedicalNewsToday, period poverty is affecting more than 500 million people globally as of 2021. Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina is very much affecting thousands of women and girls throughout the country.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country located in the Balkan region with a population of around 3.2 million people. Along with its seemingly shrinking population, it is also a very rural country, with 60% of the population living in rural areas. These rural people are also twice as likely to be poor compared to a citizen who lives in a city. Poverty in this country is nothing out of the ordinary. According to Brookings, in 2015, 15% of people in the country could not afford “basic life essentials.” According to the World Bank, 50.8% of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population is female as of 2021. This leaves thousands of women and girls in the country at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to regularly afford sanitary products.

Period Products and Salaries

Period products are expensive. According to Bosnia’s Statistic Agency, the average salary of an average citizen in Bosnia and Herzegovina was just about €575 a month. A tax on tampons exists in many countries in the Balkan Region that many people have called on government agencies to address, as it has become difficult for many women to afford these products. In Croatia, for example, there is a 25-cent tax on tampons. On average, women in this country spend about €25 on period-related items such as sanitary items and painkillers each time they get their period.

The United Nations

The lack of access to these products makes it difficult for girls to attend school. Access to period-related products allows more girls to go to school and feel comfortable in their environments without the distraction of menstruation.

In the coming school year, the U.N. has teamed up with schools in Bosnia’s Sarajevo Canton to provide access to sanitary pads and menstrual health to students in order to shrink the effects of period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The name of the campaign is “Za naše dane u mjesecu/For our days every month.” This initiative’s goal is to provide wider access to sanitary products and create awareness of this taboo issue that many people feel uncomfortable talking about. The U.N. wants to make sure that no one has to miss school days due to their period. With the launch of this new initiative, the country hopes to see fewer social inequalities because of menstruation.

How Always is Using Its Platform

Always also launched an initiative called #EndPeriodPoverty to combat the challenges that many girls face. The brand found that since the outbreak of COVID-19, “one in three girls feel less confident because they have missed school activities because of period-related issues.” The brand has teamed up with retailers to donate its products to countries in need with purchases of its products at participating retailers. It also launched the hashtag to bring awareness to this issue so people can post under the hashtag to their followers to make others aware. Though Always does not have a specific campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the brand’s initiative is fighting period poverty on a global scale.

Moving Foward

Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be shrinking with the help of these different initiatives. The U.N. campaign started in September 2022 and will continue through the school year until May 2023. Through this campaign, countless school-aged girls will gain access to the necessary products and education to ensure a hopeful school year and end the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation.

– Olivia MacGregor
Photo: Unsplash

Human Rights Violations in Ukraine
The international laws of war dictate what nations can and cannot do in accordance with human rights during times of conflict or war. All parties involved in a conflict have to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and Customary International Law. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 resulted in the creation of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions aims to help strengthen the protection of victims of armed conflicts and place limits on the way of fighting wars. Finally, Customary International Law holds nations accountable to the international obligations that establish international practices such as those laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Social and Economic Costs

Laws of war prohibit willful killing, acts of sexual violence, torture, the inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians and pillaging and looting. Armed forces that have effective control over an area have to follow the international law of occupation and international human rights laws. If a nation violates the laws of war, then they are responsible for committing war crimes. With this, the commanders of the occupying forces who know or suspect such crimes are taking place, but fail to act are criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility.

Conflicts such as the one going on in Ukraine cause immeasurable social and economic costs. These include loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, human capital, political instability and uncertain economic growth and investments.

Ukrainians will feel these effects for years to come, especially with a future of economic uncertainty in the country. This conflict however does not just impact those living in Ukraine economically, but worldwide as well with soaring rates of inflation. Within the first three months of the invasion, an estimated 51.6 million people fell into poverty living on or below $1.90 per day. Along with this, 20 million people fell to the poverty line of living on $3.20 per day. The continuous effects of Russia’s invasion are not Ukraine’s burden alone, but trickling into other nations as well.

Current State of Ukraine

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several bodies such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have been carefully monitoring the conflict for human rights violations in Ukraine and war crimes. The Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing war crime violations against civilians in occupied areas such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Russian soldiers were a part of repeated acts of sexual violence, unlawful executions and looting of civilian property. With this, Human Rights Watch has documented multiple reports on the deliberate cruelty towards Ukrainian civilians.

In September 2022, an U.N.-appointed independent committee of human rights investigators confirmed that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Most of the committee’s work has centered around investigations in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. These are the regions where the most serious allegations of war crime violations against Russia have occurred.

Those Working to Help

There are currently multiple different bodies working diligently to prevent human rights violations in Ukraine and make sure that people have access to life necessities. Ukrainian officials suspect that more than 15,000 war crimes have taken place since Russia invaded. That makes humanitarian aid even more crucial for those who are still in the nation and refugees.

In May 2022, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced the establishment of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA). The ACA aims to reinforce accountability for war crimes and it seeks to advance the commitments made by the European Union, the United States and the U.K. They are also making it their mission to support the war crimes units of the Office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPG) in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes.

Along with this, they are working to bring together multinational experts to provide strategic advice and operational assistance to OPG specialists and other stakeholders in areas such as collection, preservation of evidence, operational analysis, investigation of conflict-related sexual violence, crime scenes and forensic investigations. Accountability is key when human rights are at stake. If there is no accountability then nations in conflict can commit disastrous war crimes as they please. This group aims to demonstrate international support and solidarity for Ukraine, along with holding those taking part in the conflict accountable for their actions against civilians.

USAID Helping Ukraine

Along with the efforts of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, in July 2022, USAID announced it would provide $74 million in aid to Ukraine. This brings the total amount of USAID spending to help Ukraine to $1 billion. With the continued support of the U.S. and other nations, humanitarian organizations have been able to assist around 11 million people. Their continued efforts are crucial in ensuring the protection of human rights in Ukraine and that Ukrainians are safe from war crimes. The additional funding from USAID will provide emergency hygiene items, health care, mental health care, shelter and cash assistance to Ukrainians. It is also important to recognize that vulnerable populations disproportionately bear the burdens of war. As an acknowledgment of this, the funding will also aim to support those who are within these populations to help meet their life-saving needs.

The continuous commitment of wealthy nations to support humanitarian aid is detrimental to preventing human rights violations in Ukraine and ensuring that nations are held accountable for war crimes. The actions now set a precedent for conflicts in the future. Therefore, nations like the U.S. should continue to set an example of what humanitarian aid should look like, thus creating a model for others to follow.

– Emma Cook
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

Poverty Reduction in Latvia
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 have presented challenges to poverty reduction in Latvia. Due to these factors, Latvia suffered from a high unemployment rate in 2020 and an increasing inflation rate in 2022. Because of this, growth in the Latvian economy has slowed, prompting the government and organizations to take action to ensure Latvia is still on track to meet the 2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Impacts of the Pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate in Latvia had significantly lowered, standing at 6.3% in 2019, the lowest percentage visible over a decade. After the onset of the pandemic, the unemployment rate increased to 8.1% in 2020. Women faced the disproportionate impacts of unemployment at the onset of the pandemic. In 2020, Latvia’s GDP saw contracted by 3.9% but expanded by 4.5% in 2021, according to the World Bank. The World Bank reports that the number of people in Latvia living under the national poverty line stood at 21.6% in 2019 but increased rapidly to 23.4% by 2020.

Growing Inflation Due to the Russia-Ukraine War

Another economic instability happened when the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war touched international trade in Europe. In Latvia, inflation became an issue. As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “food, energy, and other raw material” costs have risen. Inflation in Latvia rose beyond 10%, the highest rate visible since 2008.

By March 2022, inflation in Latvia reached 11.5%. “Housing-related goods and services” rose by 14.5% on average while “transport-related goods and services increased by 22.9%, driven by a 43.3% increase in fuel prices,” according to the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

The growing inflation rates are most harshly affecting impoverished families, but pensioners are most at risk of poverty amid the rising prices, with many unable to afford their heating bills.

Efforts Toward Poverty Reduction in Latvia

In May 2022 the Latvian government adopted the second Voluntary National Review (VNR), which “evaluates progress, challenges and presents new initiatives to accelerate the achievement” of the SDGs, according to the U.N. These SDGs include No Poverty (SDG 1) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

In a 2022 report assessing Latvia’s SDG progress, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said that “We are helping those most in need and promoting equal opportunities for all in Latvia.” He explained further that the government is prioritizing housing and mobility initiatives to expand economic growth and promote decent work out of Riga, Latvia’s capital city. Furthermore, Latvia is “improving access to health care, including significantly increasing salaries for the lowest paid medical practitioners.” The government is also raising the minimum income threshold for individuals most vulnerable to poverty. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Latvian government provided support to people and businesses impacted by economic stagnation and lockdowns.

The Latvian Platform for Development Cooperation (LAPAS) came about in 2004 to bring Latvian non-governmental organizations together in order to promote development in Latvia. LAPAS works toward the achievement of the U.N. SDGs through advocacy efforts, global education priorities, the promotion of local organizations and educating and updating the public on developmental issues via workshops, social media, lectures and more.

Through ongoing commitments toward achieving the U.N. SDGs, the Latvian government and organizations can reduce poverty in Latvia while igniting economic growth and improving the quality of life in Latvia overall.

– Olga Petrovska
Photo: Unsplash

Domestic Corruption in Moldova
Moldova, a nation with one of the highest poverty rates among European countries, has a long history of political corruption that has stood in the way of progress. Though the nation’s path toward realizing democracy and greater economic prosperity has been complicated, recent democratic reforms offer hope for successfully combating domestic corruption in Moldova.

Moldova’s History of Corruption and Recent Embrace of Democracy

Discordant efforts towards combating domestic corruption in Moldova have taken place since 2005, when former President Vladimir Voronin, the Moldovan Communist Party leader, embraced a pro-democracy platform. While Moldova passed subsequent acts of legislation to address corruption, its justice system remained corrupt in many respects, as prosecutors and judges frequently received bribes or pressure to deliver court rulings that favored kleptocrats. In 2015, officers arrested and charged Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat for his role in a massive corruption scandal the previous year in which someone stole around $1 billion from Moldova’s three main banks.

In 2020, Moldova elected its first female president, Maia Sandu, who ran on an anti-corruption platform. During her campaign, Sandu pledged to reform Moldova’s courts. While President Sandu’s pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) won a majority in parliament, the government is still fighting an uphill battle to root out corruption. Going forward, these anti-corruption efforts will require increased support from civil society organizations, grassroots movements and NGOs to increase pressure on Moldova’s political elite. The nation has already adopted proportional representation in parliament, and Sandu’s government is actively promoting democratic reforms by working to improve Moldova’s business environment and limit monopolistic competition, promoting a free and independent press and improving labor conditions.

US Policymakers’ Efforts to Help Moldova

In light of Moldova’s recent democratic reforms and anti-corruption agenda, U.S. lawmakers have expressed views that more can occur in Washington to further these efforts. On July 29, 2022, ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees sent a joint bipartisan letter to the Biden Administration, urging the President to resolutely support Moldova’s reform efforts by announcing new sanctions on corrupt Moldovan figures. These sanctions, in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, are necessary to further the Moldovan government’s aims to stabilize the nation, continue on a pro-democracy trajectory and build resilience against hostile Russian influence.

These sanctions are the latest development in the broader context of the U.S. government’s efforts to foster a strong diplomatic relationship with Moldova and encourage democratic governance in recent years. Over the past three decades, the U.S. has given more than $1.7 billion in humanitarian and economic aid to Moldova, and the top priorities for ongoing assistance to the nation include strengthening Moldova’s economic resilience, bolstering democratic institutions, preventing encroachments on the nation’s sovereignty, and reforming Moldova’s justice system. In April 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (which shares a border with Moldova), USAID administered an additional $50 million in aid, intended to reinforce the Moldovan economy’s ability to withstand the significant strain and the war’s projected consequences. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the nation the month prior.

Looking Ahead

The positive trajectory towards democracy and combating domestic corruption in Moldova, as well as the remarkable ways in which the nation has helped Ukrainian refugees in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have captured the attention of U.S. policymakers. While there are still great strides for Moldova to make, the recent indications of progress in Moldova are promising, and they have ignited a sense of global urgency to further aid the nation, on the cusp of realizing democracy and greater economic prosperity, in its ongoing efforts.

– Oliver De Jonghe
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Human Trafficking in Croatia
In 2017, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that almost 25 million cases of human trafficking existed across the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation, mostly among girls and women. Southeastern Europe, which includes countries such as Croatia, Albania and Bulgaria, has a high prevalence of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation. In terms of human trafficking in Croatia, the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of State ranks Croatia as a Tier 2 country, meaning “Croatia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”

The 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report

The government of Croatia created the Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM) to oversee the conduct of police authorities at the country’s borders and ensure that human rights are upheld at all times. The IMM “may help potential victims self-identify to authorities and reduce future opportunities for traffickers to exploit migrants and asylum-seekers,” the TIP 2022 report said.

However, Croatia had inadequate screening processes in place for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. A few judges also required several testimonies from trafficking victims, leading to re-traumatization. Furthermore, the legal system charged some traffickers with less serious crimes.

Preventative Measures

The Croatian government has taken a series of steps to raise awareness of human trafficking and increase prevention measures.

  • Holding monthly virtual meetings to oversee the implementation of Croatia’s 2018-2021 national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking.
  • Hosting awareness campaigns in high-risk areas and targeting at-risk groups.
  • Running an anti-trafficking hotline that received 678 phone calls, which led to six human trafficking investigations.
  • Croatia prompted labor inspectors to conduct inspections in several fields of work to ensure there are no legal infringements.
  • The law mandates that employers cannot charge recruitment fees to workers and implements fines in this regard.
  • Labor inspectors in Croatia are able to issue fines or impose criminal charges against employers who withhold salaries from workers.

The U.S. Department of State indicated that although efforts supporting the elimination of trafficking have increased, the government still falls short of meeting the minimum standards.

From the Perspective of Croatia’s Youth

The majority of the victims experiencing human trafficking in Croatia are women and children. Adolescents are susceptible to trafficking due to their vulnerabilities and lack of knowledge. A study led by Zora Raboteg-Šarić and others in 2007 utilized a survey to test the human trafficking knowledge of 950 students.

The results differed between different parts of the country. Students from larger towns had more knowledge of human trafficking than those from smaller towns. Slightly more than 50% of respondents believed that human trafficking in Croatia is not a major concern. Females and older students generally see human trafficking in Croatia as a more serious issue than males and younger students.

On the Right Track

Despite several setbacks in reducing human trafficking in Croatia, the Croatian government has made several efforts to improve. With commitments to raising awareness and supporting preventative efforts, the prevalence of human trafficking in Croatia can reduce.

– Madison Stivala
Photo: Unsplash

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

Moldova is Helping Ukrainian RefugeesA former republic of the Soviet Union, Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries, with a poverty rate of 26.8% as of 2020. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova faced economic hardship, widespread corruption and political instability, but made progress between 2006 and 2015 toward national poverty reduction.

However, since early 2020, Moldova has experienced a series of intense economic shocks beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic that led to an estimated loss of nearly 8% of jobs across the nation, disproportionately affecting young workers. In 2020, Moldova also experienced one of the worst droughts in recent decades, which reduced agricultural production by 34%. In late 2021, the European gas crisis adversely affected the nation for several months, which increased gas prices by 400%, until Moldova’s government signed a new contract with a Russian-controlled gas company. By February 2022, Moldova was beginning to recover from these shocks, but the sudden outbreak of war when Russian forces invaded Ukraine threatened Moldova’s immediate economic recovery and future trajectory.

How Moldova is Helping Ukrainian Refugees

Despite the nation’s challenges, Moldova’s government and citizens have made remarkable efforts to help Ukrainian refugees. Since the start of the war, more than 460,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the invasion have traveled through Moldova, with nearly 100,000 refugees choosing to remain in the nation. The Moldovan government immediately set up facilities for refugees, offering medical and psychological assistance at the war’s onset. Officials also extended the right to live and work in Moldova to Ukrainian refugees, along with access to health care services and education. Notably, 95% of the refugees are staying with Moldovan families.

Humanitarian Organizations Supporting Moldova’s Efforts

UNHCR, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency, has assisted the Moldovan government through a series of measures, expanding its staff by nearly 100 members in the nation since the crisis began. The agency is helping Ukrainian refugees and supporting the work of local authorities in Moldova by offering access to information, health and legal services, child protection services, initiatives to prevent human trafficking and gender-based violence as well as offering transportation to European Union countries. A core component of the UNHCR’s response effort is a cash assistance program that allows Ukrainian refugees to receive around 2,200 Moldovan Lei (equivalent to $120) each month. The process is facilitated through enrollment centers and mobile teams that help refugees enroll, and the program has already helped more than 50,000 refugees in Moldova receive cash.

The World Bank has also implemented initiatives to help Moldova build economic resilience and mitigate the impacts of the war in Ukraine. In June 2022, the World Bank allocated $159.24 million to Moldova as part of an Emergency Response, Resilience and Competitiveness Development Policy Operation (DPO). Moldova’s government remains committed to its social and economic developmental reform agenda, and this relief funding will allow the government to support the country’s immediate needs while also providing momentum for long-term recovery efforts.

– Oliver De Jonghe
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Romania 
Romania is one of the most impoverished countries in the European Union. As of 2018, the country had the highest poverty rate in the union, with more than a quarter of the population living on less than $5.50 per day. Poverty has a high concentration in Romania’s rural areas, which contain most of the poverty-stricken population. The COVID-19 pandemic reached Romania relatively late compared to the rest of the European Union. The country identified its first case on February 26, 2020. COVID-19’s impact on Romania was mostly negative, lowering life expectancy and highlighting health care and medical supply disparities. A COVID-19 vaccine campaign began swiftly in Romania, yet momentum was not consistent. Lack of infrastructure for proper vaccine distribution and widespread vaccine misinformation have slowed vaccination rates. As of May 2022, around 43% of the country is fully vaccinated, the second-lowest amount among EU countries.

Government Response

At the pandemic’s start, the Romanian government promptly took measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, 2020, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis declared a state of emergency and on March 25, the government announced a lockdown. Nearly a month later, on April 14, Romanian authorities extended a 30-day lockdown that lasted until May 14. These actions did not come without backlash – a Romanian citizen even presented a case in protest of the 30-day lockdown to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Romanian government quickly put in motion Romania’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy. According to OECD, the campaign showed priority toward medical workers, putting high-risk members of the population second. The military and certain intelligence services, including the Special Transmission Service, stepped in to help distribute the vaccine.

Vaccination rates started strong. According to Euronews, Romania was among the top three European countries with the highest rates at the beginning of 2021 but fell from grace as numbers began to decline in March of the same year. Vaccine misinformation ran rampant and discouraged citizens from receiving any doses, Euronews reports. The rural areas of Romania lack infrastructure; social services, employment opportunities and health care are hard to find. Due to this, the majority of Romania’s poor are unvaccinated. In response, the European Commission joined Romania in the communication of the vaccination campaign: 40-second videos and 20-second radio ads promoting the vaccine were played on television and radio stations, respectively.

Impact on Health Care System

Battling the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws in the Romanian health care system and led to innovation. The Ministry of Health and the National Health Insurance Fund entirely pay unconditional coverage for COVID-19, according to OECD. Still, not every Romanian citizen has equal access to COVID-19 care. Rural areas are lacking not only health but also general infrastructure and have difficulty benefitting from Ministry of Health actions.

A positive side of COVID-19’s impact on Romania is the creation of multiple online systems to manage health information, which gives more people access to their health data, OECD reported. Additionally, the Romanian government used the European Union’s digital COVID certificate, which is used nationwide to certify whether an individual has been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from COVID-19.

Again, these benefits of COVID-19’s impact are more present in urban areas of Romania, as around 73% of Romania’s rural areas have access to the internet, while the rate is 87% in urban areas.

Businesses and Workers

Similar to the Ministry of Health, the Romanian government was proactive in enacting policies to support small businesses and workers during the pandemic. It ensured that the financial status of the employer does not affect the employees’ wages, including multiple workplace health and safety measures. The government also released €1 billion in EU grants to benefit Romanian businesses that the pandemic impacted and extended the technical unemployment period from 30 days to a 90-day minimum.

Regardless of the measures that the government enacted, the pandemic caused an increase in unemployment. Business and working families in rural areas of Romania suffered significantly. In Galați County, registered unemployment rose from 10,414 in 2020 to 11,856 in 2021.

Although COVID-19’s impact on Romania took a significant toll on the country, especially its poor, it led to several instances of innovation and swift, beneficial government response.

– Sophie Buibas
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ukraine’s Public Health
The war in Ukraine has had several impacts on the world but most importantly on the Ukrainian people through Ukraine’s public health sector. In fact, the Russian army shelled many hospitals which strongly limited the people’s access to medication and proper health care services. Not to forget that war, the movement of big masses of people from one place to another and the lack of access to clean water, create a favorable environment to increase the spread of viruses and diseases. Ukraine has also had a fragile health sector before the war, being one of the countries with the highest number of HIV-infected people in Eastern Europe. Not to forget the COVID-19 pandemic and most recently a poliovirus outbreak that the government did not have time to handle properly.

HIV and Tuberculosis

Two of the main issues in Ukraine’s public health are HIV and tuberculosis viruses. More than 1% of the Ukrainian population is infected with HIV and the ongoing war caused a disruption in the health care system, leading to a potential lack of medicines used to treat HIV and tuberculosis patients. Tuberculosis is the main cause of death among HIV patients in Ukraine, which underlines the importance of providing proper medication for it. Especially since the country has the world’s highest number of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, meaning that patients must regularly take their medication or else their situation will degrade quickly.

Many people with tuberculosis are seeing their symptoms worsening because of the bad air quality they must deal with in the shelters. This also means that they can transmit the virus to other people present with them, according to Al Jazeera.

Polio

Back in October 2021, a few months before the beginning of the war and 19 years after Europe was declared polio-free, a young Ukrainian child received the diagnosis of polio. Later, positive polio cases started to increase and the government in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) started a vaccination campaign on February 1, 2022. Unfortunately, this campaign has stopped with the start of the war and although many children received their vaccines there remain around 100,00 who need to receive vaccines to consider this outbreak under control, TIME reports. Polio which was already a serious threat to Ukraine’s public health, given the low vaccination rate during COVID-19, is now very difficult to handle due to the war and its highly contagious characteristic.

The danger of these infectious diseases in times of war and displacement of many individuals all around Ukraine but also the rest of the world is the spread of these viruses without the capacity to track the refugees who might be carrying them and thus transmit them to other populations.

Solutions

When the war started, the UNAIDS stated that Ukraine has only a few weeks of medicines in reserve for its HIV patients. To preserve Ukraine’s public health and avoid the spread of the virus, the WHO along with the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief provided the Ukrainian government with enough antiretroviral medication for the next 12 months. Without forgetting of course the civil society in Ukraine and the help it is providing to make sure that medicines reach every patient on time.

Concerning polio, UNICEF along with Ukrainian health workers is setting up “blue dot centers” all along the refugees’ route, vaccinating a maximum of people against polio, according to TIME. Thus, limiting its spread in the countries, they are fleeing to.

Hence, among the numerous impacts that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had on the country is the destabilization of Ukraine’s public health. With an already fragile health sector, Ukraine had to deal with several health issues with relatively no proper means due to the war. Nonetheless, the country can count on foreign aid to preserve the health condition of its people and also prevent from spreading of different illnesses around the globe.

– Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Flickr