It is high time for the EU and national leaders to fix all what is wrong with the social factors that trap the Roma population in a vicious cycle of ill-health. Policy-makers can do a better job to make sure that Roma people across Europe do not have to endure an additional series of obstacles to become healthy and productive members of the societies in which they live.
Six million Roma live in the EU (1), in what represents Europe’s largest ethnic group. The Roma are one of the most disadvantaged communities living in the continent. Most face discrimination and lack access to social services like education or health care – a breach of the social contract under which the legitimacy of our governments lies. The result is that the Roma suffer worse health and a lower life expectancy than the rest of the population (2).
Among the many barriers to adequate health care that Roma communities suffer is the lack of required official documents. “In many instances, the lack of birth certificates and the non-regulated status of many Roma drag them into health isolation for their entire lives. In addition, and as many Roma work on an informal basis, they are not entitled to health insurance on the basis of employment,” said Sebihana Skenderovska, Health program coordinator at the Macedonian National Roma Centrum.
Being cut off of health services takes a particularly heavy toll on Roma children. Child mortality among Romani communities is many times higher than the one for rest of the population. Low birth weight and premature birth are also common place among Roma babies. “The hardship endured by Roma kids at the outset of their lives does not end at adulthood. When they grow up, Roma women lack proper access to contraceptives and family planning. It makes the cycle of unwanted teenage (3), pregnancy and unsafe abortions the more difficult to break,“ pointed out Daniel Radulescu, President of the Romanian Roma Center for Health Policy (SASTIPEN). Levels of sexually transmitted infections are also disproportionately high among Romani women.
As EU institutions and European capitals acknowledge, access to quality housing, clean water and sanitation are human rights that have a profound impact on health. Yet, many Roma live in informal settlements with conditions that do not support good health. Poor sanitation increases levels of communicable diseases like tuberculosis among the Roma - if not addressed soon, concentrations of these diseases could easily spread beyond Roma-populated areas (4).
The dismal working conditions in which many Roma people make a living also have a significant impact on their health. Like all Europeans, Roma have the right to fair and safe working conditions that meet international labor standards. Wages should be commensurate for the cost of living, so that adequate housing is affordable, and healthy and nutritious food is not a once-a-month treat.
“All across Europe, we have been neglecting or undermining the most fundamental rights of Roma people for too long. It is a shameful situation which we must take responsibility for and action against. In the end of the day, combating social exclusion, discrimination and inequality is an explicit commitment of the EU and European capitals (5),“ added Monika Kosińska, Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
“EU leaders should go the extra mile to address the factors that impact on Roma people’s lives. In spite of Brussels’ efforts to break the circle of exclusion experienced by the Roma, healthcare, education, employment, social protection and housing are still to be blamed for the unremitting levels of exclusion that this community endures in Europe,“ said Ms Skenderovska. “Today’s International Roma Day must mark a new beginning in the Roma struggle to become full-fledged citizens,“ concluded Ms Skenderovska.
► Note to editors
(1) In Romania, Bulgaria, the Slovak Republic and Hungary the Roma represent between 7 and 10 percent of the population. Large Roma communities live in EU candidate and potential candidate countries such as Turkey and Serbia. The largest Roma population is found in Spain (1 million) while significant Roma communities live in France and the UK.
(2) For instance, in Bulgaria the Roma have a life expectancy on average 5-6 years lower than that of the rest of the population.
(3) In France, for example, the average age of first pregnancy among Roma women is 17 years.
(4) The health of the Roma community is characterized by high levels of both communicable and non-communicable diseases and a higher prevalence of type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Rates of tuberculosis, hepatitis, sexually-transmitted infections (STI) and HIV are disproportionately high among the Roma.
The citizens’ association “National Roma Centrum” (NRC) is a professional, civil society and non-profit organization for promotion and protection of human rights of citizens in Republic of Macedonia.
An Roma right NGO with extensive experience in developing and implementing projects and programs for Roma communities, conducting surveys/ studies/ research that reflect the situation of Roma communities, and developing and implementing information and awareness campaigns of the Roma community members, with experience in delivering training sessions for adults, in implementing lobbying and advocacy campaigns etc
- European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
EPHA is a change agent – Europe’s leading NGO advocating for better health. A dynamic member-led organization, made up of public health NGOs, patient groups, health professionals, and disease groups working together to improve health and strengthen the voice of public health in Europe.
► Contact information
Javier Delgado Rivera, Communications Coordinator- +32 2 233 38 76 or