Access of Roma to Health Care Highlighted at Budapest Seminar

18 February 2005

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC)/Hungarian Ministry of Youth, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Event Examines Policies to Address Roma Exclusion from Medical Care

Budapest. The ERRC and the Hungarian ministry responsible for the implementation of Hungary's anti-discrimination law and policy framework today held a joint seminar to discuss equality in access to health care.

Roma in Hungary face barriers in access to health care because of discrimination and related exclusionary forces. Romani women frequently suffer the complex effects of double discrimination in accessing health care, due to the impacts of gender and race.

In recent weeks, an Equal Treatment Commission established under Hungary's December 2003 anti-discrimination act has been constituted. Health is a priority area in the Decade of Roma Inclusion, which the Hungarian Government is committed to implementing. Just this week, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany highlighted the situation of Roma during his annual address on key policy issues in Hungary.

Speaking at the ERRC/Ministry seminar, Minister for Youth, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Dr. Kinga Goncz said, "We are committed to ending the range of troubling issues hindering Roma in Hungary from realising in full the right to the highest attainable standards of health. In the coming period, the Ministry will address this issue as a priority of its work."

The seminar heard presentations from Hungarian and international policy experts in health care matters, as well as practitioners working on cases of racial discrimination in the field of health care in Hungary and elsewhere. Matters for discussion included existing models for addressing extreme exclusion from care, as well as access to justice issues particular to health care services. Conclusions of the seminar are expected to input Ministry policy in the field of Roma and access to health care, as well as ongoing ERRC research in this area.

Concluding the seminar, ERRC Acting Executive Director Claude Cahn noted the need for government and civil society to take up the challenge of working seriously on the difficult matter of racism and racial discrimination in the medical profession, notwithstanding the fact that many medical practitioners regard themselves as above the fray of difficult social questions.

With the support of the Open Society Institute, the ERRC is currently undertaking intensive research into access of Roma to health care in Bulgaria, Hungary and Spain. Throughout the region, the ERRC is involved in litigation in health care matters including: 

  • denial of emergency care
  • racially segregated health care facilities
  • requirements of informal and illegal supplementary payments for health care services
  • coercive sterilisation of Romani women

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