Albania – COVID-19 Emergency Response

Reporting date: 12 October 2020 
Total cases: 15.570 
Recovered: 9,585 
Deaths: 424 

The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Albania on 8 March 2020. The news came from a hospital in the capital, Tirana, when a patient and their child, who had recently travelled from Italy, tested positive. As is the case across many of the countries where Dorcas is present, the pandemic has brought unprecedented hardship to the most vulnerable in Albanian society – a society where marginalised and poverty stricken groups are regularly left to fend for themselves. Find out how we’re working to reach isolated households… 

Escalating poverty and social isolation 
Albania has been grappling with rooted social inequality and absolute poverty for years. Within days of the first confirmed case, the far-reaching impact on the most vulnerable – the elderly; who often live alone, Roma communities, people with special needs, families reliant on social assistance, the unemployed or those who work in day labour – had already begun to show. The situation is particularly acute for the elderly population who, due to the socio-economic climate in the country, remain of the most exposed groups to poverty, exclusion and social isolation. Poor families, who have suddenly seen their main source of income cut off, also face a number of grave threats to their safety and wellbeing.  

Struggling to provide for their children, many parents and caregivers have seen their mental health suffer. Couple this with starkly low financial aid from the government – Albanian families receive the equivalent of 50 to 65 euros per month – and it is clear that additional support is urgently needed in order for the poorest to bounce back following months of lockdown. It is also extremely hard for these groups, particularly marginalised Roma families, to access good information on the virus; limiting their capacity to adopt basic preventative measures and shield themselves from infection. 

Our Response 

Dorcas has been quick to respond to the evolving crisis. With a strong presence in the Korca, Tropja and Elbasan regions, we have been able to adjust our programme activities to meet the needs of vulnerable groups forced into survival mode. With a strong commitment to mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS); we have been going beyond public health needs to address mounting levels of stress and anxiety among isolated households.  

Prioritising mental health  

At the height of the pandemic, when the Albanian government imposed a strict 24-hour lockdown, we used every communication channel available – Skype, Wazzup, phone or even postcards and letters – to stay in regular contact with isolated individuals and families. Distribution of food and hygiene packs as well as medical supplies, particularly to grannies and households with a disability, continue to support this.  

Our priority throughout this crisis has been to remind vulnerable people across Albania that they are not alone. We are working hard to address not only basic needs but also the psychological impact of the pandemic which include feelings of hopelessness, fear and anxiety. These impacts are readily felt among poorer families – particularly parents who have lost their jobs and have the added pressure of children being at home all day. We help parents and caregivers – an often unseen group – tackle problems at home and manage stress through over-the-phone psychosocial support sessions. As lockdown eases, we are also re-introducing face-to-face sessions for high-risk cases – taking all the necessary protocols into consideration. 

Supporting children and caregivers 

Recreational materials and child activity kits have also been provided to keep children busy and support their continued learning. Dorcas has made it our mission to ease the pressure on families dealing with months of home schooling by linking them to summer camps run by the local municipality. We support these activities by distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) among the camps such as facemasks and hand sanitisers – as well as ‘fun’ informational materials on good handwashing and hygiene. 

 In certain cases, our support also extends to cash handouts, to help families manage the economic impact of the virus. 

Safeguarding public health  

Dorcas has also been sharing key public health and protection messages via WhatsApp, phone calls and door-to-door visits. This has been particularly important in remote Roma communities where many families live in basic mud huts and do not have access to a TV or other communication devices. Awareness raising has proven to be a simple yet effective measure in this regard. Our dedicated team of staff and volunteers have been working around the clock to distribute flyers and other informational materials that outline the simple steps families can take to shield themselves from the virus.  

We have also set up COVID-19 related activities in these communities that see all generations come together to stay informed and support each other – with Dorcas managing all the relevant safety and security protocols surrounding such events. 

Next steps 

“As we enter the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic it is absolutely critical that we look ahead to the long-term impacts – the impact on Albanian livelihoods, particularly for those on zero-hour contracts and the looming mental health crisis”, says Ilia Dishnica, Country Director for our Albania programme. To do this successfully, Ilia recognises that we need to work together – more than ever. “Strengthening the capacity of community facilitators and local partners is of utmost importance to our approach. Our emergency response to date has enlisted the support of donors such as Kom over en Help, New Day Impact and the Global Albanian Foundation as well as private organisations, public institutions, local stakeholders and community-based organisations who continue to ensure that our work has maximum impact on the ground. Our approach moving forward will strictly respect government measures including contact tracing and increased investment in healthcare. This also compels us to continue with an adaptive programming so that we can respond quickly and efficiently whatever the pandemic throws at us.” 

Dorcas programmes in Albania are primarily funded by private funds from the Dorcas International Office and Kom over en Help and implemented directly with the support of three local partners. We will continue to work together to adapt our activities as the pandemic plays out. Follow us on Facebook to stay-up-to-date or learn more about our regular activities on our dedicated country page

10 November 2020