The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is underway and we are approaching 1000 confirmed cases each day. The problem is that the number of tests conducted is still very low, in fact, the lowest in Europe. The government claims that this isn’t because they cannot afford it, but rather because the Committee of Technical Experts doesn’t think it’s necessary and it hasn’t been recommended.
In October, the IPH said they had tripled the daily number of tests to around 1400 a day but this is not enough. The WHO said an efficient testing system should test between 10-30 people a day. Albania only tests 6. The government has not invested in increasing testing of increasing laboratory testing.
Exit has received a number of testimonies from concerned citizens who were refused testing or had been told they would be tested, only for it never to materialise. Some were forced to undergo expensive private testing at EUR 100 a test, just so they knew what they were dealing with. Others stayed at home and hoped for the best despite the unpredictability of the virus. In one case, an elderly man was made to walk to the hospital to receive therapy.
We are publishing a selection of some of the testimonies received. These are not exhaustive.
B told Exit:
“My father has COVID-19 but the family doctor is refusing to send someone so he can take the test. He called 127 and they told him to take paracetamol. He is 72 and has a temperature above 39 degrees, a loss of taste, muscle pain, and a low oxygen level. He had to walk to the hospital himself because the doctors refused to come. He needed injections to increase the level of oxygen in his blood. He could barely walk. Then they sent him home-still with no test.”
D told Exit:
“My mother had COVID-19 and it turned into pneumonia but the state never tested her. She stayed at home and the family doctor referred her as someone who should be tested but they never came to see or test her. The doctor said it’s probably because they have too much work. Fortunately, she is better and recovering, she is 54.”
M told Exit:
“In July, I had all the symptoms of the virus and I called several times to ask. I had a fever. Finally, they responded and said they couldn’t test me because the priority was to test those that are in a bad way.”
N.B told Exit:
“My parents both have COVID-19. My father F.M is 82 and has a heart condition and high blood pressure. My mother R.M is invalid. The family doctor sent their names to be tested by the state and we told to wait. I think they would have been tested in the future but no time was given so we did it privately. We haven’t had any call from the doctor or anyone to see how they are or if they need any help. The Elbasan poliklinika has their names but not a single medical person has called to check on them. They are scared, especially my father as he has the heart condition as well. People like this who have no money, and if they have no one to look after them-they will die in their homes.”
S told Exit:
“I am sure I have COVID and have been self-quarantining at home. I called 127 to notify them and to ask for testing. Due to my work, I had been around a lot of people and I thought they would want to contact trace…but they never came! They said they would but 11 days later and no one has come.”
B told Exit:
“I called 127 and they took the data and said I would qualify for testing. The IPH called me, they double-checked the data and two or three days later they called me and said we are coming to your place, in 10 mins we will be there. I asked if they could come a bit later as I was due to go on a work call and the woman started screaming at me. Eventually, I calmed her down. They were very rude to me on the phone. They never came. I called them and messaged them and they never replied to me, called back, or came to test me.”
M told Exit:
“My mother and father had COVID and were both hospitalised. They didn’t test me, my brother, or my grandmother. They didn’t even tell us to quarantine.”
K told Exit:
“My wife had a fever for three weeks and couldn’t move from the bed. No one came to test her or check on her despite us calling several times. It was early on in the pandemic and we were really scared.”
Exit contacted the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Public Health to ask for the criteria they use to decide whether someone is tested for COVID-19 or not. They had not replied by the time of publication.
Another story raised concerns over the standard of treatment being offered. Prime Minister Edi Rama recently said that Albanian hospitals and treatment are on a par with Greece, Italy, and Turkey, but it seems that staff in hospitals do not echo the same feeling.
A told Exit:
“My father was receiving treatment at home. He is a retired doctor and was getting antibiotics and breathing therapy but it kept getting worse. We took him to hospital and they scanned his lungs and said he was Stage 3. They wouldn’t hospitalise him as they said the treatment in-hospital was the same as what he was getting at home and that he would need to go to Greece, Italy or Turkey for treatment. The hospital recommended a hospital and hotel and we flew him out immediately. There were around 20 Albanian patients when he got there and around 40 now. He is recovering now.
Last week, the Mufti of Shkodra, the Orthodox Archbishop of Albania, and the Catholic Archbishop of Albania were sent to Turkey, Greece, and Italy respectively, to undergo COVID-19 treatment.
It’s safe to assume that the real number of COVID-19 cases is much higher than what is reported each day due to the low level of testing and contact tracing. But it appears that even those who need help and treatment are being refused or forgotten by the state.
If you suspect you have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who thinks they have the virus, please self-quarantine for a period of two weeks, even if you do not to a COVID-19 test.