Isolated Romania villagers offered door-to-door Covid jabs

Poienita Voinii (Romania) (AFP) –


Farmer Sorin Tuza breathed a sigh of relief when a doctor and two nurses offering Covid-19 jabs knocked on his door in an isolated village in Romania's Carpathian mountains.

"I'm grateful they came all this way," said Tuza, a blind diabetes sufferer who spent two weeks in hospital after catching the disease some months ago despite living so remotely.

"This sickness is no joke," the 45-year-old told AFP from his home in Poienita Voinii, which overlooks high green slopes that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Despite his illness, Tuza's wife Mirela still does not believe the virus exists but reluctantly agreed to also be vaccinated.

Doctor Stefan Repede, who spent an hour on mountain roads to reach the village of some 40 people, coordinates the project to vaccinate those in remote areas in the central county of Hunedoara in Transylvania, who often have no means to travel to get the jabs.

"City people get vaccinated how and when they want to, but those in rural areas are isolated," the 64-year-old pipe-smoking doctor with a sharp sense of humour tells AFP, adding he's been "battling anti-vaxxers for 33 years".

"Hunedoara county is 70 percent mountainous so we are trying to reach those who can't access the appointment platform or go to a vaccination centre. So far it's been a success," Hunedoara county prefect Calin-Petru Marian tells AFP.

- Vaccination race -

More than 3.8 million people among Romania's population of 19 million have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine so far -- some during "vaccination marathons" and drive-thrus opened 24/7 organised by the government in addition to the online and phone appointment system implemented thus far.

The effort is part of an ambitious attempt to inoculate five million people by the end of May, a goal experts say is impossible with the current rate. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Romania has recorded almost 30,000 deaths.

"The most difficult phase will be to reach the areas where Romanians don't have access to medical services," Beatrice Mahler, manager of a Bucharest hospital, tells AFP.

"We have large chunks of the country where general practitioners don't exist, where the population is not educated and the messages we send via TV stations is not even understood."

But only a few of Romania's 41 counties have so far mirrored the Hunedoara vaccination caravan project.

As many doctors have sought to work abroad, Romania is behind most other EU countries in terms of number of licensed physicians per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Eurostat data, a deficit which is the most acute in rural areas.

Poienita Voinii and neighbouring Bunila are among more than 210 villages throughout the country that do not have a general practitioner on site, according to a recent report of Romania's ombudsman.

"I wanted the vaccine right from the beginning. And now I'm very happy," the 72-year-old told AFP, opening his small yard to the travelling doctor.