Celebrating 10 Years of Investing in Roma Health
By Merziha Idrizi
Daniel Stanciu commutes long hours every day to save children’s lives at the Calarasi County Hospital in Eastern Romania. Daniel is a pediatric surgeon. He is Roma, and the first doctor in his family.
Salija Ljatif-Petrushovska heads the Skopje Gerontology and Palliative Care Medical Center. Salija is Roma, too. She grew up in Shuto Orizari, a large Roma-led municipality in North Macedonia. In 2012, she completed her medical studies with the support of a scholarship for Roma medical students provided by the Roma Education Fund.
Many reports show that Roma encounter a range of challenges in the medical system, from negligence of health authorities and absence of prevention programs to language barriers and racist stigma. These challenges have partially contributed to poorer health outcomes in Roma communities, where low life expectancy, high rates of chronic diseases, and infant mortality are enduring issues.
Our Roma Health Scholarships Program is looking to counter these trends by helping Roma youth become medical professionals, and thus improve access to health care for members of their communities. Since 2008, the program has funded the studies of over 530 Roma from Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia. We have witnessed that negative stereotypes against Roma in the health care system are more likely to decrease when public hospitals have more Roma medical professionals.
The program also connects students with mentors, mostly professors at medical universities, trains their advocacy skills on public health issues, and encourages them to develop projects in local Roma communities, like information sessions on preventive health care and workshops on dental hygiene and breast cancer with children and women. In Serbia, a group of students even created a vaccination schedule calendar in Romanes—the language shared by Roma communities across Europe.
Today, we have over 250 program alumni, all Roma health professionals, who, like Daniel and Salija, contribute to improve access to health care and provision of medical services to Roma people in Europe. National governments have acknowledged the positive impact of our scholarship scheme on the public health sector and on Roma communities. It is our hope they will commit to join our efforts in supporting the program.
The Roma Education Fund is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations. The Roma Education Fund launched the Roma Health Scholarship Program in 2008 and has supported over 500 Roma medical students in the past 10 years in North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria.