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Serbia: Older people and the right to health

05 May 2014

Part of our ADA on Health campaignThe Red Cross of Serbia and HumanaS network have been involved with the HelpAge network's Age Demands Action (ADA) campaign since the very beginning.

This year, the aim of our ADA on Health campaign, was to educate older people about their rights and how to exercise them.

The right to be healthy is a basic human right, a value to measure all others against. Through self-help groups we support networks of older people to ensure they are part of improving social protection and healthcare for themselves. Health facilities, goods and services should be available, accessible, affordable and acceptable for and to older people.

Giving older people access to information on health

To ensure older people are informed of this we invited the Deputy Minister of Health Dr Nebojsa Jokic to speak at a conference on 7 April, World Health Day and the day of our ADA on Health campaign. Dr Jokic spoke about the Law on Patient Protection that came into force in May 2013. Professionals are already familiar with this law, but many older people in Serbia were not - until now.

The goal of the law is to give the best medical treatment while keeping the risk to the patient as low as possible. It also includes the patient’s right to privacy, confidential treatment and a second opinion.

This law is a step towards better health for everyone. The older people present at the conference were interested in hearing more about it and they asked a lot of questions. Some questions, however, still need answers and clarification.

Health services can be inaccessible

For instance, the law stipulates that everyone above the age of 65 has the right to health protection free of charge. However, 13% of older people in rural areas are not even registered in the health system and are not using its services.

The other issue is the accessibility of health services. For many older people (particularly in rural areas), health centres, clinics and pharmacies are inaccessible as some older people are not able to travel long distances.

Even for the older people who are covered by health services and have access to them, there is little they can get free of charge, other than simple examination. So many older people suffer from poor health as they cannot afford to pay for more advanced diagnostics or purchase the medication they need. Many can only afford to buy the cheapest medication on the market.

Discrimination from emergency services

One of the most frequent questions we hear from older people is why they get asked their age when they call the emergency health services.

They want to know whether it is for medical reasons or because older people's health problems are not considered urgent. In many countries older people need an answer to this question and it must come from the health system itself.

By the end of the year, the Red Cross of Serbia will have organised educational workshops for a minimum of 500 older people which focus on their human rights.

Find out more about our ADA on Health campaign

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Author profile

Natasa Todorovic
Country: Serbia
Job title: Health and Care Program Manager

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.