Some 565 flights for “medical purposes” have left Tirana airport since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from BIRN.
The overwhelming number of these took place in October and November as numbers of COVID infections grew. Information provided by two companies operating air ambulances noted that EUR 6.7 million had been spent during that period on flights to other countries for medical assistance. Most went to Turkey, others went to Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
Data from hospitals in Turkey showed that Albanian patients could have spent up to EUR 12 million on treatment.
The family of a patient being treated in a Turkish hospital told Exit that when their father-in-law arrived in early November, there were around 20 Albanians being treated. Within a week, this number had doubled to around 40. He had been told by Albanian doctors that his chance of recovery was slim and that his best bet was to seek treatment abroad.
Numbers of infections in Albania have increased drastically in the last few weeks with hospitals pushed to capacity. On Sunday, the government opened the third specialist COVID hospital to treat patients. There are still concerns about the availability of medical staff and resources.
Prime Minister Edi Rama has continued to say that Albanian hospitals are on a par with those in Turkey and Europe, but it seems many do not share the same confidence. Even high-ranking religious figures have sought treatment abroad. Orthodox Archbishop Anastasios was sent to Greece, the Mufti of Shkoder is in Turkey, and Catholic Archbishop Frendo has gone to Italy.