Prime Minister Edi Rama today met doctors, nurses and health workers on the frontline in COVID-19 fight in the external premises of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Tirana. Expressing deep gratitude for the tireless and self-sacrificing work to cope with the situation for months now, Prime Minister Rama announced that a substantial pay increase will soon be announced for all doctors and nurses in Albania.
Prime Minister’s conversation with doctors and nurses on frontline of fight against the pandemic:
PM Edi Rama: I came here to greet and thank you and all of those who are not here today, but who work together with you, and express my deep gratitude and respect, solidarity, as well as sympathy for the extreme distress you are all being through and that you should successfully cope with. In addition to this you are also forced to put on protective clothes and gears amid the scorching temperatures and unfavourable weather conditions during this period of the year, but this is part of your noble and special professional choice among all other trades.
You have made an extraordinary contribution, not only in terms of health, but also morally, for all health workers in Albania. You have told many of those who keep talking, without having any idea of what is going on, that the truth is that our team of our doctors deserves only respect and not disregard, let alone a smear campaign of endless accusations and insults of the kind you are used to and have kept hearing all over these years. Unfortunately, this is a world disaster and it has not affected only us, and we happened to have to deal with this monster. However, fortunately, this war found us at a stage when some significant improvements had been accomplished. This is because, should this natural disaster was to happen, God forbid it, some few years ago, when this hospital facility – and you know very well the logistic capacities and equipment it was supplied with – it would have turned out to be a catastrophe. Certainly, this was a tremendous public challenge, because, as you have already acknowledged from day one of the epidemic, as public health care have noted, this is not a battle that takes place at hospital only. This is a battle that is fought by everyone on daily basis by strictly abiding by the annoying, yet simple rules designed to protect themselves and others.
While the virus – as you have said from the beginning and I would like to reiterate – is not here for a three-week or a four-month period, but it will continue to be among us for a period that nobody knows how long it will last. Therefore, we need to get used to it and coexist with this new dynamic in our social life, because we have no other choice. We cannot opt for lockdown and isolation, because it would incur a lot of damages and destruction of other nature coming at an extremely dear social, economic and psychological cost.
We also face the huge challenge of opening the schools. Kids are believed to be less risked, yet they are not immune. You have consistently emphasized this. In addition to that, children can transmit the disease to others. Our son will go to school for the first time this year. A small child wearing a face mask, who is told not to shake hand and embrace anyone and instead stay away of everyone else, setting him in a situation psychologically completely unknown, let alone the effects in terms of the habits these children will develop in the future. We as parents tell our children to greet, shake hands with others, whereas this time we are forced to tell them completely the opposite and this is an incredible challenge.
But worth mentioning is the fact that it was not us to make such a choice, it was this challenge that chose us.
I know very well since we are in constant contact with the Health Minister, who is in constant contact with you, what has been done so far as part of the plan, considering also the period of the seasonal flu comes, when the vulnerability is expected to increase.
We have taken right measures to increase vaccinating capacities so that to prevent the seasonal flu, because, as we have learned, a vulnerable body is truly at risk and vulnerability due to the seasonal flu makes COVID-19 even more dangerous. To this end, we have allocated a significant funding to support and support vaccination for free. We have also pre-ordered doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine, when the vaccine becomes available, and this is a story which will go on, without taking into account the FB competent people, who speculate over “microchips” that would be injected into people’s bodies to spy on them where they will go and what they plan to do, which are all part of the fantasies of a crazy time in this respect.
On the other hand, as far as structures are concerned, we are prepared to boost hospitalization and treatment capacities. What I would like to tell you first – because you should be the first one to hear and not find out on the media – we are preparing for a substantial and lavish pay rise for health workers. We are seeking to announce a significant salary hike, not by 5% or 7%, which would be a pay rise under normal circumstances and which could be seen as a normal hike for other public sectors, but not for you.
We should make a considerable salary increase. We are still making calculations to finalize the amount to support the pay rise in addition to the monthly bonus of EUR 1000 that doctors on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus currently receive and will continue to receive until the epidemic is over. I am talking about all health workers in Albania’s health system. Our ambition is to increase salaries at the level of the region’s average.
And we are not talking about a salary increase that is about to become a reality in the future, but an increase that will be included in the new state budget starting next year. So, we are programming funding and all health workers will see a fully deserved pay hike starting next year.
This will certainly not compensate the physical, moral and psychological aspect, yet it is a gesture of gratitude and objective evaluation, a mandatory one, so to speak, especially, as Ogerta clarified a day ago, we have already taken certain and gradual measures to make sure that doctors refrain from leaving, or better say, to make sure that it won’t be that easy for them to decide whether to stay or leave and establish a balance financially. These measures are designed to make sure that the country’s health system faces no shortage of doctors and that they receive equal salary, no matter where they work and no misbalance is created. The professional choice of everyone is something else. We have noticed that the 2.5 million lek bonus for doctors who agree to work in regional hospitals across the country is working very well. The truth is that the shortages of doctors have been significantly reduced.
Staying here is the first choice even for the specialist doctors and, as far as we understand, this is not because they are forced to do so, but because they see it as a reasonable opportunity for a successful career here. Then, everyone makes their own choices in the process.
We will increase the salaries significantly. I believe we will also have the approval by the Professor, who is our good friend in all aspects, also for the fact he doesn’t hesitate to rightly and kindly criticize us, sometimes even bitterly, but always motivated by good will and not to deny what has been done and our ongoing efforts, because we are all on the same boat and everyone is doing his part.
We continue investing here since a lot remains to be done in our efforts to completely modernize the University Hospital Centre and investment projects are underway to build the new Internal Diseases Hospital, the Paediatric Hospital and other facilities. We are doing utmost efforts, but, just like you are battling COVID-19 and the effects of the disease you see in the body and organism of every COVID-19 patient, you should understand that we, too, are battling with the effects in the organism of our system with so many affected organs that need to be treated and rehabilitated. But, at least, health system is not at an intubation phase. Health system has now entered a stable recovery phase. It has yet to fully recover, stand on its feet and run, but I think we are on the right direction in this aspect.
Again, thank you very much and deep respect for each and every one of you! You have set an excellent example of the public servant. And such example is really precious at this moment. The phenomenon of belittling the doctor’s authority or belittling the authority of some influential and central figures of the society has been always attributed to the consistent attacks and a denial drive and what is happening –as your have already seen for yourselves –the ones more active in levelling accusations are those who have never ended in hospitals themselves, or they have happened to see a doctor or be hospitalized years ago and they have no idea about what has happened in the country’s hospitals since then and I wish they never end up in hospitals so that they could see for themselves what changes and transformations have taken place. But we can’t help them and we can do nothing about it. We have no other choice.
To put the records straight, I have to add something else; I have been told by the other professor here that wearing a mask in open outdoor spaces is not mandatory, right? You are protecting me and I want to thank you all for this, but we are keeping a sufficiently safe distance. It is quite strange, because there is everywhere confusion in this aspect. In Austria, for example, nobody wears a mask now. People wear mask when in indoor places in France, but not on the street. Italian authorities have decided to make wearing mask even in outdoor spaces. As we speak and as many are watching us on TV, I am pretty sure that many of them criticizing me and wondering: “Why don’t you put on the mask? Or this is because you are very tall and COVID-19 can’t infect you? Or this is because you know the truth and this COVID-19 pandemic is nothing, but a game?” Indeed, I have repeatedly stated that no mask is necessary in outdoor spaces when you maintain a safe distance and refrain from embracing and shaking hands with others, right?
Professor Najada Çomo: Thank you Mr. Prime Minister for coming here! Our gratitude goes for you, for the support you have provided and the support we have been absolutely granted by the Minister of Health.
I would briefly inform you on the situation at the Infectious Diseases Hospital today. Of course, the situation has worsened in terms of the number of the hospitalized patients, with over 100 patients hospitalized as of today. I would also like to provide a brief outline about the situation since March 8. Around 1000 patients have been hospitalized and treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital since first case of COVID-19 was detected in March 8 in the country. A total of 715 patients have fully recovered, but a number of infected people have lost the battle against the deadly virus. Of course, these coronavirus patients have won this war and battle for survival thanks to the treatment and care they have received here at the Infectious Disease Hospital and thanks to the medicines that have been provided at record time. We have asked for drugs and treatments that have turned out to be effective against the new coronavirus all over the world and the government has promptly provided the medicine supplies we have asked for. In other words, we are delivering best treatments and care in all aspects.
I also want to share with you the announcement that for around a month and a half now we are making preparations to introduce the hyperimmune plasma. But today we will start for the first time treatment of coronavirus patients with this plasma and I avail myself of this occasion to issue an appeal to all people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their blood and plasma, which is a very important component in treatment of the coronavirus patients.
What I would also like to share with you is the fact that we are a large team of doctors, nurses, health specialists, and sanitation workers, a team united with the squad of intensive care doctors. A increased staff of doctors and nurses have been employed at the intensive care ward since day one and more doctors and nurses are joining our ranks in our fight against the deadly virus. What makes me happy in my capacity as a doctor with a long experience in the health system is that there are nurses, who are employed through the portal, and join our ranks willingly and not forced to do so.
PM Edi Rama: Fortunately, we have already put an end to the politically influenced employment of nurses or their hiring based on bribes. Nurses are now hired only via the online portal that automatically selects the best performing candidates. It is also true the fact you already highlighted that nurses willingly and voluntarily choose to work in this hotspot of healthcare system today is really significant and meaningful and they truly deserve appreciation and respect. That’s why should not limit ourselves to the sincere and true remarks, but also provide bigger financial support. I am sure we will decide about the percentage of the pay rise in the next two weeks and Ogerta will inform you first about the decision.
I have been informed that Ogerta (Health Minister) never turns down your requests. I have advised her to reject your requests some time and don’t keep saying doctors are right, because we have our rights too. But she keeps heeding your demands and I am really pleased about this synergy that has been created between the Ministry of Health and the health sector. This is because also for the fact that Ogerta has previously served as director of the University Hospital Centre and she knows health sector excellently. It is not just theoretically, and it is not just because of her goals and good will, but it is because of the long period of serving as director of the University Hospital Centre. She knows every corner of the centre and she rightly becomes furious when someone dares to comment on the conditions at the hospital centre, because she has seen everything for herself how the situation used to be here.
It is something else that is probably worth adding and highlighting, since we are here between two extremes. One of the extremes is represented by those who deny the existence of the COVID-19 and another extreme brings together another interesting group of individuals, who call for freedom, or a COVID-free world, so that they can come together in clubs, discotheques, weeding parties and other gatherings. They want to do everything, as they used to do previously, and the government should kill the COVID-19. What is worth highlighting and what we will keep strongly emphasizing is that we will do what are tasked with doing, and we will make sure to deliver maximum results, as you are also doing, but the human stupidity – and I am talking about normal people, but who still carelessly think they are immune and cannot be infected by the virus – and although doctors are consistently issuing their appeal and though government is constantly warning about the new cases and calls for rigorous implementation of the safety guidelines, they still keep asking why number of fresh cases is increasing. We knew that the number of fresh cases would grow. We have discussed this fact earlier with the members of the Committee of Experts and we have acknowledged that with the country’s reopening the number of new cases would increase, but the strict quarantine we imposed has been helpful. The total lockdown allowed us to make preparations and wake us up and it made us come to terms this is not a game. But it is impossible to impose lockdown indefinitely, because everyone could contract the virus as soon as he or she walks out of home. The virus didn’t leave when we all observed the lockdown. It is still here and the number of deaths is unfortunately unavoidable and this number grows with the number of fresh cases. We know this very well, because this is also the case in more developed countries with superior health systems. In the meantime, the number of fresh cases is also growing rapidly.
In the region – thank God – Albania maintains a stable position and a relatively low number of deaths if compared with most of countries in region. On the other hand, the number of deaths in the first six months is lower compared to the same period of the previous year. The death rate stands at around 3.2%, whereas such rate has increased in many other countries. These are all dynamics that nobody has been able to explain and provide a final conclusion as of today. You belong to this science and, like never before, you heed the authoritative voices you come across in the magazine articles, even though they often make contradictory statements and it is extremely difficult to reach a final conclusion. It is really a surprise. It is impossible to reopen the country and return everything back to normality as before and prevent the growth in fresh cases. The new infections will grow and we should definitely work to find a proper balance.
Thank you very much!