From: Alice Taylor
Minister Rifat Latifi: Kosovo Ready for Possible Autumn COVID-19 Wave

While Kosovo is preparing for another COVID-19 wave, the government does not expect it to be as bad as 2021 due to lessons learned and increased vaccination rates, Minister of Health Rifat Latifi told Exit in an exclusive interview.

Since the start of the pandemic, Kosovo reported over 270,000 cases and 3,191 deaths in a country of 1.8 million. The government had tough restrictions throughout, including border closures,  requirements for entry, curfews and mandatory mask wearing.

According to the Ministry of Health, over 50% of the population have had one dose of the vaccine while 45.92% have had two. Third and fourth booster doses, however, remain in the single digits.

“We expect another wave. We won’t fare as bad as we did last year. Number one, most people are vaccinated, and we know how to manage it a little better now than last year,” he said.

He added that the current measures include increasing the vaccine uptake, the requirement to show COVID-19 vaccination card in some settings, and recommended mask wearing.

Last year, while jab uptake was low, restrictions were tougher, but this time around, Latifi hopes it will not be so necessary. In addition, 65,000 influenza vaccines were given last year, and this year they will still be available to high-risk groups, pregnant women, and health care workers for free.

Nonetheless, “as immunity wanes, the next stage still remains highly uncertain,” Latifi said.

In terms of COVID misinformation, Latifi explains that Kosovo faced challenges, but there was no established anti-vaxx movements. Nevertheless, the government launched a communication and community strategy to address misinformation by sharing correct information through sources such as TV, social media, health care workers, and community leaders.

As for his mandate, the Kosovo and then US-educated author, professor, and general surgeon added that his main aim is to create a great healthcare team and infrastructure to drive the system forward. Furthermore, the pandemic has also allowed the ministry to identify key vulnerabilities in the health system and work towards improving them.

“Lack of anaesthesia, lack of intensive care, a multidisciplinary approach to intensive care, and the main silos of the health care system. It is easy to do. Yes, we need time, and we need to work on multiple aspects simultaneously, but it’s not difficult to do,” he added.

Meanwhile, government spending on healthcare in the Western Balkan country sits at 3.5% of the GDP in 2020, with an expenditure of 4.1%, according to EU figures. This is less than Serbia, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“During autumn/winter, there might be an uptick of cases, but since the vaccines now are available still limit the incidence of severe disease. We are continuously working on preparedness and response from tests, vaccination, therapeutics and hospital capacities,” the minister concluded.