HIV/AIDS in UkraineUkraine has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, with an estimated 260,000 people living with the disease. Odessa, the third-most populous city in Ukraine, has “the highest concentration of HIV/AIDS of anywhere in Europe.” Poverty exacerbates HIV/AIDS in Ukraine and links to injected drug use, threats to government funding, lack of access to antiretroviral treatment and social discrimination.

Poverty and HIV/AIDS in Ukraine

In 2019, Ukraine and Moldova stood as the two most impoverished countries in Europe. The poverty rate in Ukraine increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 42.4% in 2020 to 50% as of February 2021. There is a strong connection between poverty and the spread of diseases; disease could be both a cause and a result of poverty.

HIV/AIDS causes conditions of poverty when working adults become ill and can no longer support their families. The disease becomes a result of poverty when the conditions of poverty put people at greater risk of contracting it. As an example, women and girls who live in poverty are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. They are more likely to resort to working in the sex trade, which could put them at high risk of contracting HIV.

HIV/AIDS in Ukraine’s Women and Girls

UNAIDS estimates that out of all people with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, 120,000 are women older than 15 and 2,900 are children aged 14 or younger. Gender inequality, poverty and violence against women and girls are significant factors in the spread of HIV. Women and girls who live in fear of violence may be reluctant to advocate for safe sex, receive testing or seek treatment for HIV and other diseases.

Gender inequality inhibits women’s access to resources for sexual and reproductive health. In rural Ukraine, where the poverty rate is highest, 36% of women do not participate in community or family decision-making. Only 46% of these women are competent with a computer or the internet. Furthermore, almost 48% do not have access to medical services.

The Lack of Access to Antiretrovirals

As Sky News reported, access to antiretrovirals is a major problem for many people living with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine. Although a law stipulates that antiretroviral therapy should be free to all citizens, limited national resources have resulted in restricted access.

Antiretrovirals are crucial for preventing the spread of HIV to children. The use of antiretrovirals during pregnancy and administered to an infant for four to six weeks after birth can result in a transmission rate of 1% or less. According to U.N. Women, the majority of women living with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine fell between 18 and 45 years old. Out of these women, 39% discovered that they were HIV-positive during pregnancy.

Social Discrimination Against People Living With HIV/AIDS

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), discrimination against people who use drugs and people living with HIV presents a serious challenge to identifying those who need treatment. Harsh drug laws, fear of HIV/AIDS and systematic police abuse undermine efforts to provide HIV information and services such as testing and safe needle exchanges. In addition, the law requires drug treatment centers in Ukraine to register drug users and share the information with law enforcement. This protocol keeps people who use drugs from seeking medical help, which subsequently prevents them from testing and receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS.

The War in Donbas

The war in Donbas has made it difficult for people to receive treatment in a region that previously had one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country and was home to nearly one-quarter of all antiretroviral recipients. When the war began in March 2014, it displaced 1.7 million people. To compound this, unsafe sex has resulted in an increase of HIV/AIDS within the military. Combined with ongoing military conflict and a shortage of antiretrovirals, Ukraine is experiencing a crisis: the government has failed to keep up with infection rates.

Solutions

In July 2021, Ukraine received a grant of $35.8 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. According to the Ukrainian government, the nation would use the funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), reduce risks associated with COVID-19 and strengthen the health care system.

Ukraine is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The country wants to implement prevention campaigns, increase access to antiretroviral treatment and target key risk groups, such as people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

On September 1, 2021, President Biden announced that the United States would provide more than $45 million in additional assistance for Ukraine. The aid would help people facing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Donbas. The U.S. is working with USAID-supported programs to provide supplies for Ukrainian health care centers, training for health care workers and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable populations.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Estonia
Estonia, the northernmost Baltic state, is a member of the European Union that was formerly part of the Soviet Union. After gaining independence in 1991, newly recognized Estonia embarked on a series of political and economic reforms. Many now commonly refer to the country as one of the Baltic Tigers alongside Latvia and Lithuania because of its rapid economic growth. Today, Estonia is a developed, high-income country that consistently ranks high in quality of life, education and digitalization. Despite this, Estonia still lacks in other indicators of development. The road to capitalism increased inequalities in Estonian society that did not exist under communism. Citizens lost some of the safety nets they previously had. Elderly poverty in Estonia remains a significant issue that demographic trends and a fragile pension system exacerbate.

The Estonian Pension System

As of December 2020, 41.4% of Estonians over the age of 65 are at risk of poverty, which is one of the highest rates across the European Union. This percentage has significantly increased since 2011 when it stood at 13.1%. When the Estonian government modernized the economy and pension system after independence in 1991, young people benefitted more because they had more time to collect into their pensions. Those approaching old age or already receiving pensions suffered, evident in the high elderly poverty rate today. When people reach retirement age in Estonia, they receive a pension based on the time they spent contributing to the labor force. In addition to this, Estonians can opt into two other pension pillars, one based on their income and one based on voluntary contributions.

  1. State Pension. The first pillar of the pension system is mandatory for all Estonians. It aims to guarantee a standard of living above the absolute poverty line. Social taxes that the government collected fund this pillar. Citizens receive a pension based on the number of years worked.
  2. Wage-based Pension. Estonians can participate in this pillar by contributing 2% of their salary to a pension fund. This pillar used to be mandatory but is voluntary as of 2021.
  3. Supplementary Funded Pension. This pillar, which insurance companies and banks managed, allows people to make extra payments into their pensions.

With the aging population, the number of pensioners is quickly rising, putting pressure on pension sizes. The Estonian population is aging and the number of working-age people is decreasing. The social tax revenue that funds pensions is likely to decline. The media has criticized the reforms that made the second pension pillar voluntary for their potential to destabilize the economy and increase poverty among the elderly.

Gender and Elderly Poverty

Elderly women are especially vulnerable to poverty in Estonia. According to the OECD, 42.8% of women over 65 in Estonia live in relative poverty, compared with 21.4% of their male counterparts. Women also have a much higher life expectancy than men in Estonia. They are living on average 8.4 years longer than men.

This could mean that women often end up widowed and lose their husband’s source of income. This only compounds the financial problems elderly women may already face because of low pensions. 

Looking to the Future

Despite this, the Estonian government has made efforts to combat elderly poverty. Recent reforms adjusted the retirement age to increase every year with the life expectancy. A higher retirement age means people work longer, contributing more to pension funds that Estonia will need in the future. The Estonian government wants to ensure that the pension gap between men and women does not grow. To do that, it is calling for measures to reduce the gender pay gap. The measures include increasing the Labor Inspectorate’s supervision of wages and promoting gender equality curricula in schools.

The government has not yet analyzed the effects of this plan as it extends into 2023. On a supranational level, the European Union proposed legislation in early 2021 that would require companies to report on pay disparities between males and females. The wage gap has dropped from 22.5% in 2013 to 19.7% in 2020 and projects to drop another percentage point by 2023.

To address elderly poverty in Estonia, various organizations are working on regional, national and European levels. The European Anti-Poverty Network has a commitment to eradicating poverty across Europe and placing the fight against poverty and social exclusion at the top of the EU agenda. It has partnered with the Estonian Association of Pensioners (EPUL), which cooperates with government agencies to protect the rights of the elderly.

Its primary activities are advocacy-focused and help bring elderly voices to the forefront of Estonian politics through public events, lectures and lobbying meetings. In 2018, EPUL signed an agreement that formed elderly councils in the Tallinn city government to involve the elderly in decision-making. The organization also gives free legal aid to the elderly and provided 817 hours of free legal help in 2018.

Though the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on elderly poverty in Estonia is not certain. However, trends in the years leading up to 2020 are favorable. The relative poverty rate is slowly decreasing, as is the gender pay gap that affects old-age pensions. With NGO work and strong national policies, Estonia is on its way to alleviating and eradicating poverty among its most vulnerable population, the elderly.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Unsplash

EU Energy Poverty
Rising prices for gas and electricity have prompted the EU to appeal to its member countries to subsidize customers and businesses as it deals with the negative impact of its decisions regarding climate. Seeking to deter energy poverty, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simon spoke of measures that target select customers at most significant risk of energy poverty with direct payments, cutting energy taxes and shifting energy taxes to general taxation. Simon said to the EU lawmakers that mitigating the social consequences and protecting households most at risk is of 
“immediate priority.” He also suggested that businesses engage in longer-term power purchase agreements while not ruling out the possibility for relief through state aid. Here is some information about energy poverty in Europe as well as programs to alleviate energy poverty.

Energy Poverty in Europe

Energy poverty is prevalent across Europe, where anywhere between 50 and 125 million people cannot afford proper indoor heat, according to a 2009 publication by the EU. Member states have acknowledged the gravity of the issue and its ramifications in health issues and social isolation. Energy poverty marks low household income, high energy costs and inefficient energy houses, where an increase in revenue, management of energy costs and more energy-efficient infrastructure are solutions. Energy poverty affects Sub-Saharan Africa significantly, particularly in the medical sector, with limited time for health care activities and thus increasing risk for patients. Europe is not immune to these issues and should not overlook them, even if the potential scale is not as significant.

EU Plans Backfire and Exacerbates

According to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, behind the rising energy prices afflicting Europe today are the EU’s “Green Deal” policies. President Vladimir Putin of Russia shares the same opinion. The Green Deal initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to levels seen in 1990, on the way of eliminating emissions by 2050. One of its strategies involved discouraging the usage of long-term purchase agreements for gas, coal and nuclear energy in favor of short-term pricing to deter its use. LTPAs are not sensitive to market prices and are therefore a more cost-effective option than purchasing gas if one is doing it for the long run. This discouragement has left EU member countries scrambling for alternative gas options amid the energy shortage, exacerbating the already low levels of energy poverty.

Programs to Alleviate Energy Poverty

Various projects have developed across Europe with the common aim of ending energy poverty. Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency voiced themselves in 2018 and granted around 6 million euros to three projects responding to energy poverty: STEP (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty), EmpowerMed and Social Watt. STEP, for example, has created a model that includes a call to organizations and consumer groups that specialize in issues affecting those who are energy-poor. It wants to educate energy-poor consumers in nine European countries they have identified as the most energy-poor and share their methods and policies with other EU countries.

STEP

In Lithuania, for example, the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations partnered with STEP following inquiries by ALCO into organizations that revealed concerns by consumers regarding energy poverty issues. The Association of Social Workers, an amalgamation of social workers across many organizations, which also happens to be ALCO’s principal partner, received an introduction to the STEP project. This led to several social workers’ interest in receiving the required training to become efficient energy advisors.

EmpowerMed

EmpowerMed, a slightly more nuanced project than STEP, is also addressing energy poverty in Mediterranean coastal areas with a focus on women, gender and health. Its name has an association with numerous publications on energy poverty training, policy and reports. This is part of a constitution of other efforts such as energy workshops, advocacy campaigns that gender-neutral stress policies and energy visits to select households.

Social Watt

Social Watt tasks itself with providing parties exhorted under Article 7 of the Energy Efficiency Directive in Europe to engage with strategies to alleviate energy poverty. Integral and endemic to the function of Social Watts are its features. The Analyzer feature of Social Watts is a downloadable tool that facilitates consumer data observation to identify risk houses. The Plan function identifies optimal solutions that accommodate any nuances in the energy conservation dynamic. The Check tool serves as a verification function to ensure the endeavors of Social Watts are without errors or negative ramifications. 

The ramifications of energy poverty constitute adverse health effects, educational delay, medical impedance and economic disruption. While COVID-19’s economic consequences have exacerbated Europe’s energy poverty, programs to alleviate energy poverty have been able to offer hope to the most vulnerable and, at a minimum, prevent social unrest.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

Working to Empower the Roma 
The Roma represent a previously nomadic group of people who are now scattered throughout Europe. Since their initial migration from India to Europe in the 10th century, the Roma have endured persecution. As a result, an estimated 80% of Roma people located in Europe live in poverty. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower the Roma people throughout Europe.

How Discrimination Drives Poverty

The Roma have faced discrimination in Europe for centuries — an issue that persists even today. Data from 2016 reveals that, at the time, one out of every four Roma encountered some form of discrimination in the past year. Discrimination often restricts people’s opportunities and limits their capacity to escape poverty. For example, the Roma often struggle to find housing and face forced evictions in countries like Bulgaria and Italy. Thus, advocating against anti-Romani discrimination is imperative to alleviating poverty among the Roma.

3 Organizations Fighting for the Roma

  1. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Founded in 1996, this Roma-led nonprofit organization advocates for the rights of the Roma people through legal action, policy change and education. The ERRC has brought attention to the failure to protect the rights of the Roma throughout Europe, making the situation a primary political focus. The organization has relayed the urgency of this issue to member states of the European Union as well as candidate countries to ensure it receives attention. Furthermore, the ERRC has taken legal action by initiating more than 500 court cases to hold various governments, organizations and even individuals accountable for any discriminatory or violent actions against the Roma.
  2. European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO). This network, established in 2008, is a conglomeration of more than 30 smaller organizations that are working together toward the common goal of addressing anti-Romani discrimination. The network’s main objective is to make policymakers aware of how discrimination against the Roma is responsible for the group’s struggle to achieve equality and inclusion. ERGO endorses improved policies to empower the Roma while launching several public campaigns to raise awareness of the issues plaguing the Roma.
  3. The Roma Support Group (RSG). This organization is a Roma-led, U.K.-based group that supports Roma families by offering them a diverse selection of services, such as homeschooling resources, a guide to COVID-19 prevention and steps to follow to report hate crimes. The RSG intends to better the current situation of these families by helping them conquer obstacles such as discrimination and exclusion. It also advocates for the Roma within the public sphere to raise awareness of the struggles they face. This organization is responsible for various projects including the Financial Inclusion Project in London. This initiative helps alleviate poverty among the Roma by familiarizing them with the welfare system and increasing their financial knowledge.

Moving Forward

For years, the Roma have faced persecution and marginalization across the world. As a result of this discrimination and exclusion, many Roma people have fallen below the poverty line. However, organizations are working to empower the Roma while fighting for their rights to live a life free of discrimination. By supporting organizations that empower and protect the Roma, even an ordinary individual can make a difference in the lives of this marginalized group.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty Rate in Romania
The elderly poverty rate in Romania is a challenge to not only the elderly population but also the country itself. Romania’s poverty rates for retired individuals and elders over the age of 65 have increased drastically from an already high level.

The Issue

Romania’s elderly at-risk poverty rate reached a record high of 25.1% in the year 2020, whereas it was previously 14.4% in 2012. Additionally, 24.5% of elderly women in Romania are under the poverty line with a pension, comparable to the record high of 25.7% in 2016 and a record low of 22.1% in 2010. Comparably, males with pensions reached a record high of 18% in 2020 and a record low of 7.9% in 2012.

These statistics present an evident truth; as the years pass in Romania, the elderly poverty rate is quickly rising. This leads poor elders to search for work to make enough money to survive, which they often do not have the qualifications for. In the end, impoverished elders rely on pension payments, which some do not even qualify for, while others struggle to survive below the poverty line.

Romania’s Health Care System

Romania has a dual health care system. Similar to countries such as Australia, it has both a private and a public health care system. However, its system differs from others when it comes to the government’s involvement. Romania’s government spends an average of 4% of the country’s GDP on health care, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The government does not fund private healthcare, thus leading those in poverty towards government-funded health care, which has proven to be inadequate. Furthermore, those who do pay for private health care do not always get a better deal. Since the government is uninvolved financially, private hospitals can overcharge patients exorbitant amounts for as little as a consultation.

Also, since the year 2007, about 15,700 Romanian medical experts from both private and government-funded institutions left the country to pursue a better salary in other European countries. With a sub-par salary for Romania’s government-paid doctors (some specialists receive as little as $350 a month), Romanian doctors often resort to bribery, in which they charge patients additional fees for even the simplest consultations.

In terms of the elderly poverty rate in Romania, it is clear that either of the two options for health care in Romania can be costly, and their physical health frequently undergoes neglect. As of 2020, only 23.4% of Romanians over the age of 65 would rate their health conditions as “good” or “very good,” while the EU average is almost double this, at 41.1%. Additionally, 66.7% of these people reported issues with walking, and 51.9% with vision problems, which they cannot treatments for. In comparison, only about 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States have a disability.

The Pension Problem

Romania’s pension system is likely to face challenges due to the country’s aging population. Romania is facing a demographic challenge, with a population decline of approximately 25% from 21.4 million in 2008 to approximately 15 million in 2050. Though Romania will most likely face additional challenges as a result of the projected population drop, one major issue could be pensions.

Furthermore, the proportion of elderly people in Romania could reach 29.9% by 2050, subsequently leading to a strain on the pension system. With an aging population, more people will require pensions, putting the government in a dilemma about whether to pay the full amount necessary. As proven with the health care system that the Romanian government provided, the corrupt country will not be eager to allocate so much money to pensions.

Having said that, Romania does have a solid pension system in place, which is based on citizens’ contribution to the economy over a minimum contribution period of 15 years. However, a growing elderly population could cause the country’s pension system to crash according to projections, potentially impacting the elderly poverty rate in Romania.

Lastly, another issue with the Romanian pension system is the fraud that seems to consistently reappear throughout the years. One of the greatest scandals occurred in 2009, in which Romania reported $7.15 million in pension fraud. Resolving an issue like this would require stronger pension security and a potential re-evaluation of the pension granting system.

People Against Poverty

People Against Poverty is an NGO that works in six countries, including Romania, to reduce poverty levels. It has been working to reduce poverty in Romania since 2003 and has hosted a variety of projects, including an Agricultural Project which provides resources for people in Romania who live in rural communities. NGOs like People Against Poverty are extremely important when considering poverty reduction in entire countries, and the implementation of its programs can help in solving Romania’s elderly poverty issue.

Elderly poverty in Romania has been an increasing problem within the past decade, and will likely continue to be one into the future. It remains in the hands of the Romanian government to solve this problem before the elderly population reaches a peak. However, hope exists that the population will regulate itself, or that the economy will open more jobs for impoverished elders. With the help of NGOs like People Against Poverty and the growing economy in Romania, there is certainly hope that the elderly poverty rate will decline over the upcoming years.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

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

The Situation in Contemporary Albania

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

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

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

The Link Between Trafficking and Poverty

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

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

Examining the Targets of Traffickers

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

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

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

The Albanian Government’s Response

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

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

Government Investments to Reduce Trafficking

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

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

Ending Human Trafficking in Albania

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

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Romania Battles Recent Diseases
Romania is a beautiful country with rich culture and colorful nature. Romania maintains its traditional folklife with a clash of modernism. If one visited Romania, saw pictures or even watched a documentary, one would see the old and new structural buildings with sheep and cows plaguing the streets. Although thriving, many still consider the country an economically developing nation, with many aspects needing assistance. Currently, Romania is concerned with these recent diseases: the Coronavirus and measles. Diseases in Romania may not always be treatable, but vaccines can make them preventable. 

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted every country. However, it has disproportionately affected those in developing countries like Romania. On February 26, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 received confirmation. Soon after, the coronavirus disease became one of the many diseases in Romania. Romania did not have a stable healthcare system. It did not have the proper resources such as medical equipment, supplies, personnel and let alone enough medical establishments to aid those in more rural areas.

According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data graph, Romania appears to face continuously increased spikes of daily infections. The projection estimated for hospital resource use, both beds needed and intensive care units would increase and be in high demand by October 18, 2021. Currently, 27% of Romania’s population has received two vaccinations, compared to 54% in the U.S. Many expect that Romania will stay at 27% while the U.S.’ vaccination percentage continues to grow. Due to the severity of the situation, Romanian authorities took action to spread a national campaign through media channels such as social media and television news to more spaced-out areas in Romania.

Measles

Measles is an infectious disease that affects the respiratory system yet may come across as simple flu. The contagious disease can spread through sneezing and coughing and it is not easy to detect. Many of the diseases in Romania are not curable or treatable but people can prevent them through vaccines and proper methods of prevention. Based on the article, “Measles Epidemics in Romania: Lessons for Public Health and Future Policy” by Stefan Dascalu, measles is the main leading cause of child deaths in Romania. This preventable disease led to the deaths of children, younger than 5 years of age. Although the cases of measles decreased from 1982, it is still endemic.

There are actually two doses of the measles vaccine, which are MCV1 and MCV2. Records and expectations stated that the vaccine coverage would be greater than 95% during the 2000s era. However, in the year 2010, a decreased trend of coverage appeared. By 2014, the trend declined to 89% of coverage only with those receiving the first dose. Unfortunately, the trend will likely continue to decline. In 2016, the most recent outbreak occurred where there were cases that exceed the number of 15,500. Additionally,  the death rates reached 59 individuals who died as a result of measles by the year 2018. The high rates of deaths could be due to many components: the lack of vaccination coverage distributed to areas of the countryside, lack of adequate supplies and the lack of parents’ understanding/ education to vaccinate their children.

Improvements that Leads to Solutions

According to the article, “Romania: Thriving cities, rural poverty, and a trust deficit” by Donato De Rosa and Yeon Soo Kim, Romania has both an urban side and a rural side. Bucharest is an example of Romania’s part that is thriving as a city with a contemporary and profitable system. However, some smaller villages are in the past. As many consider Romania to be an underdeveloped country, it does not have certain advantages like the United States. For instance, Romania faces poverty that has resulted in the lack of a proper health care system and resources for residents in rural areas. Providing foreign aid is a key component to allow these countries to gain stability. Becoming stable will likely help these countries alleviate poverty. This in turn will help economically and strengthen bonds with the other nations.

Member of the European Union

As the World Bank stated in the “Golden Growth: Restoring the Lustre of the European Economic Model,” the European Union (EU) has a goal to converge developing countries for improvement and also for economic benefits. In 2001, the EU integrated Romania as part of its “Golden Growth” model. The EU developed The Golden Growth model for economic convergence, in sections such as trade, finance, enterprise, innovation, labor and government.

There were significant reforms that took place in Romania as a result of the growth model. Reforms included a transition from labor-based and low technology methods to more advanced use of machinery and electronic tools. Between 2014 and 2020, Romania received 17.6 billion euros in investments to improve the nation’s poor infrastructure. The EU’s aid positively impacted Romania’s degree of efficiency and way of life. In turn, this led to Romania’s population decreasing “from 22.8 to 19.6 million since 2000, and is expected to keep falling.” This is a great indication of Romania’s improvement since more children are surviving and thus parents are having fewer children. Still, it is essential to implement better public health programs. Foreign aid to provide supplies to the population and improved education on the importance of immunization for low-income communities can also significantly boost Romania from extreme poverty.

Foreign Aid

Although the diseases in Romania appeared to be dire, the county is not alone in facing these challenges. As a member of the EU since 2007, Romania has received assistance from fellow nations for resources. Romanian authorities’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was moderately swift, but it did not live up to its full potential due to the lack of medical supplies, equipment, and knowledge about the disease.

When the next outbreak struck, the country was better able to respond with the proper procedures and knowledge in place. In regards to measles, Romanian medical practitioners are developing strategies to spread the information on vaccines to poorer communities. These strategies range from advertisements to campaigns carried out on flyers. Romania has certainly come a long way from the original state of poverty. Overall, providing more foreign aid is a key component in forming stability in these countries. The U.S. does currently assist Romania but needs to do more with the assets it has.

– Jenny Liang
Photo: Unsplash

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

Albanian Tourism

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

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

Revitalization of Albania’s Bunkers

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

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

Economic Growth

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

Using History to Serve the Present

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

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in GermanyFrom 2006 to 2016, elderly poverty in Germany (people older than 55 years old) increased from 4.5 to 5.6 million people. According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the percentage of people who face poverty while receiving retirement money could increase from 16.8% to 21.6% by 2039. In other words, one in five German pensioners could face impoverished conditions by 2039. Germany intends to combat elderly poverty with a basic pension plan.

Elderly Poverty in Germany

People who receive “less than 60%” of their average working salary from their retirement funds are currently considered at risk of facing poverty. This equals a monthly retirement income of less than €905 or $997. The percentage of people depending on other financial government assistance may also rise from 9% to 12% by 2039. These people would have monthly retirement incomes of no more than €777.

3 Main Pension Systems

A German pensioner can choose from three main pension systems. The German pension apparatus consists of a “pay-as-you-go system,” which is combined with other supplemental plans. The supplemental pension plans intend to provide funds in addition to the state pension that pensioners already receive.

  1. State Pension. This pension plans awards about 70% of net income to people older than 65 who have been working in Germany for at least five years. Enrollment in the state pension plan is mandatory for everyone working in Germany.
  2. Company Pension. The company pension plan is a plan workers can monetarily contribute to via the employer. The plan intends to augment the state pension plan and has become the most popular retirement plan in Germany.
  3. Private Retirement Scheme. This plan is established through insurance organizations and banks. The German government promotes these plans through tax incentives and bonus benefits.

Despite the three main pension plans that Germany has implemented, those working for a lifetime in Germany still struggle to make ends meet after retiring. This is especially relevant for those employed in low-earning careers.

The Basic Pension Plan

Since the amount of state pension given to a pensioner depends on their net income, those who participated in low-earning jobs are at increased risk of facing poverty. To address this, Germany recently decided to implement a new basic pension plan, which ensures that those who have been working in Germany for a significant amount of time will receive a basic amount of pension.

In January 2021, the German federal government enacted the basic pension plan to combat elderly poverty in Germany. This plan guarantees that individuals who have contributed to the German state pension system for a minimum of 35 years receive a basic pension in addition to their original state pension. The additional basic pension ensures that the pensioner has enough money to pay for fundamental necessities. No application is necessary as the government utilizes an automatic system for these basic pension benefits.

According to German legislator Malu Dreyer, more than 1.4 million people will benefit from the basic pension plan. Furthermore, a significant portion of women will benefit from the plan as four out of five beneficiaries will be women. The plan also rewards those who took time off work for familial caretaking as long as their total employment time meets the minimum requirements.

Looking to the Future

In hopes of decreasing elderly poverty rates, Germany implemented the basic pension plan, which aims to provide its low-earning citizens with enough funds to secure their basic needs after retiring. The state pension only provides the pensioner with 70% of their net income, which can be problematic for citizens who spent their lives working in low-paying positions.

The German government estimates that the plan will benefit more than 1.4 million people, providing hope that more than a million elderly citizens will not live the remaining years of their lives in poverty. Overall, the German government presents a clear path ahead for combating elderly poverty in Germany.

Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19's Impact on Women and Poverty in CroatiaThe Republic of Croatia is a country located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Montenegro. Since proclaiming independence in 1991, the country introduced policies, programs and reforms to improve the quality of life of its citizens. But, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has had serious consequences for the country.

COVID-19 and Unemployment

COVID-19 devastated many countries in a social, political and economic areas. However, Croatia was particularly hit hard. Starting in 2008, the country experienced a global financial crisis that had tremendous consequences. The European Commission Autumn Economic published a report estimating a recession of approximately 9.6% GDP in 2020, nearly 7% worse than the previous year. The main reasons behind the decrease are the fall in the tourism sector, domestic consumption and eradication of exports. In addition, registered unemployment skyrocketed by 21.3% during the first year of the pandemic.

Poverty in Croatia also increased after two earthquakes in 2020 negatively impacted Croatia’s pandemic and health crisis management. In response, the European Union deployed resources for the recovery of all the member countries, especially those who also suffered natural disasters during the pandemic.

Despite this bleak outlook, an analysis by The Ministry of Finance argues for an “optimistic growth of 5%” in 2021, provided Croatia sees an increase in domestic demand and continues receiving recovery funds from the European Union.

Women and Poverty in Croatia

According to a report by the World Bank, COVID-19 is not the only factor pushing women towards poverty. Undoubtedly, women are more likely to be employed in the informal, low-skilled and part-time jobs that were hardest hit by the pandemic. In many cases, these jobs disappeared and women suffered income loss. In addition, women who lost their jobs or work at home are less likely to be guaranteed social security and health coverage by the emergency packages created since the outbreak of COVID-19. For this reason, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has been severe.

Both the European Union and the World Bank are aware of the many barriers women have to overcome. In response, they created several policies to find a solution. Some of the policies include providing equal access to the labor market for all women and removing any barriers to women’s employability.

The Government Response

Croatian authorities have become aware of the extreme need to reduce poverty in Croatia, especially for women. In 2019, authorities passed a National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) to be carried out until 2023. This plan aims to prevent, protect and guarantee women’s rights in the country. The policy seeks to ensure that every woman has access to education, public health and active participation in the labor market.

The NAP prioritizes nine objectives to aid in prevention, participation, protection and implementation. Among these objectives are an increase in women’s role in decision-making processes and the promotion of women’s rights in conflict settings. The NAP works on the back of previous legislation that aimed to increase women’s participation in higher education. For example, women represented 59.9% of university graduates from 2015 to 2018. The same period saw a 4% increase in women in human resources and a 2% increase in female professors.

To support women’s employment, authorities introduced legislation to improve family life through maternity and parental benefits.  For example, the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy (MDFYSP) supports projects such as lengthening daycare operations, creating alternative education programs and providing children with meals. By supporting scholarships and child care, parents have more time to dedicate to their professional careers.

Hope for the Future

In conclusion, COVID-19 drastically affected Croatia in many ways. In particular, women suffered heavy damage from the health crisis. But, the international community and the Croatian authorities stepped in to design programs and resources for the eradication of poverty. Which, if the data is any indication, has promising results for the future of poverty in Croatia.

– Cristina Alverez
Photo: Flickr