PRISTINA, Kosovo - While the lives of many Kosovars have improved in the eight years since open warfare ended in the former Yugoslavia, and while a decision on the province's permanent political status is on the horizon, the women of this troubled region still face dangerous gaps in access to basic reproductive and other health care. In order to improve women's immediate access to services, and to build the long-term capacity of local providers to administer care, Doctors of the World - USA (DOW) has replicated its successful Women's Wellness Center model at a third location in Kosovo, the Main Family Medicine Center (MFMC), a primary health care facility serving over 100,000 women in and around Pristina, Kosovo's capitol.
In its first four weeks of operation, the Pristina WWC provided treatment to nearly 1,000 women. Because public health services are the only ones that low-income people can access, the high-quality WWC is an important contribution to ensuring an equal opportunity for health for Kosovo's women. The urgent need for improvement in health care for the women of Kosovo is borne out by the figures: maternal mortality rates are as much as four times higher than the European average, and the infant mortality rate is among the highest on the continent. Most primary care facilities lack the equipment necessary for basic diagnostic test and procedures and staff need additional training to update their clinical and counseling skills.
"We all know how important this issue is," said Thomas Dougherty, DOW Executive Director, at the opening ceremony for the WWC on June 12. "Kosovo's women continue to suffer from a lack of information, services, and support for their reproductive health and wellbeing."
The WWC utilizes a comprehensive model of care, emphasizing prevention, health education, and counseling along with the provision of reproductive health services. DOW has worked closely with the MFMC to ensure WWC staff have strong counseling, clinical, and management skills. DOW has also worked to equip the WWC with an on-site mini-laboratory as well as colposcopy services - essential tools in preventing the debilitating consequences of common health problems.
"Women's health services are often given low priority for long term investment and development," said Dr. Mary Packer, DOW Project Director in Kosovo. "The WWC offers a high commitment of individualized care, ensuring that the needs of each woman are appropriately met."
DOW has been working to strengthen maternal and child health in Kosovo since 1992, gaining an in-depth understanding of the status of and needs regarding Kosovar women's health at the policy, provider, and client levels. The WWC model was first established in 2003 at sites in Gjilan and Prizren in Kosovo to provide women with comprehensive health care. These WWCs are now operating independently and are entirely supported by the Ministry of Health, handling 20,000 visits annually.
The recently established WWC at the MFMC in Pristina has been made possible with the generous support of Johnson & Johnson, and was implemented in cooperation with the Pristina Municipality and the Kosovo Institute of Public Health.