Roma civil society to contribute to UN health project
On 30-31 January 2012, OHCHR hosted the first meeting of the Roma Civil Society Group on the Right to Health as part of the inter-agency project “Scaling up action towards MDGs 4 and 5 in the context of the Decade of Roma Inclusion and in support of National Roma Integration Strategies”.
Among the participants were local and international Roma activists, who work on Roma health issues at community level in Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey as well as representatives of the project’s partner agencies.
Intergovernmental organizations, WHO, OHCHR, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and IOM, have teamed up to address the issue of the deep social exclusion faced by Roma communities in Central and Eastern Europe and the consequent difficulties in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically MDGs 4 and 5 which deal with child and maternal health. The project’s activities of capacity building, research, monitoring and technical assistance aim to enhance government and other stakeholders’ efforts to deliver more effectively in the area of Roma health. The purpose of the first meeting of the group was not only to introduce the project to the Roma activists but also to gain valuable input from their experiences of working with local communities.
OHCHR’s role within the project is to coordinate the activities of the Civil Society Group which should also provide input to the health components of the National Roma Integration Strategies. The collated and synthesized information will be presented at the next meeting of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion in March 2012.
Participants spoke of some of the problems and constraints faced by their communities in access to healthcare – discrimination, economic constraints and lack of systemic policies. They also pointed out the challenges posed by gender roles within many of the communities that make women and girls vulnerable to early and risky pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and other risks.
Valeriu Nicolae, founder of the Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities in Bucharest, spoke of the approach of many States thus far as being “piecemeal with a lack of a coherent policy and too much focus on one single programmatic element – health mediators”.
Mr. Octavian Bivol of UNICEF stated “the very fact that the consultative group brings together so many UN agencies and representatives of NGOs focusing on Roma health shows commitment and creates an important bridge between us”.
The meeting ended with a firm commitment and enthusiasm on the part of the Roma civil society activists to continue providing input to the project even in the face of the continuing challenges they encounter in their daily work.