Occupational medicine towards extinction

Of the approximately 4.800 doctors in Kosovo, only 20 are specialized in occupational medicine, while specializations for this branch have not been opened for more than two decades.

The President of the Chamber of Doctors of Kosovo, Pleurat Sejdiu, says that four working doctors have already retired and that most of the others are on the verge of retirement.

"Kosovo is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a list of occupational diseases [diseases in the workplace]. And who would be better called to deal with this issue than occupational doctors", says Sejdiu.

Occupational medicine focuses on maintaining the health of workers, including the prevention and treatment of their illnesses and injuries.

According to the Labor Inspectorate in Kosovo, in 2021, nine citizens lost their lives at work, 40 received serious injuries and 139 minor injuries.

In the period 2016-2020, however, 74 citizens died at work, while 530 were injured.

The National Center of Occupational Medicine, which is headquartered in Gjakova, currently operates with only one occupational physician. From March, there is a risk of being left with none, says director Luan Nagavci.

"Unfortunately, this doctor who is now retires next month," he announced.

The Main Center of Family Medicine in Pristina faces a similar situation. Currently, there are two doctors working there - one of them Shpresa Kuqi.

"There were five of us, three of my colleagues retired and now there are two of us. I am here until August, while my colleague will continue a few months after me", says Kuqi, who has been working as a doctor since 1983.

She talks about the importance that, according to her, the occupational doctor has. It is a determinant of a worker's ability to work, says Kuqi.

"I think that a person should not be employed and has no right to be employed without obtaining a certificate that he is in good mental, physical and mental condition to start a working relationship", she said.

Mst: For 20 years, only five specializations for occupational doctors

The Ministry of Health of Kosovo announces that in the last competition for specializations, in 2020-2021, five places were allocated for specialization in occupational medicine - the first since the post-war period.

Specialization in this branch lasts four years.

"Specialists have started the specialist education program in March, 2021. More places would be allocated, of course, but the interest of doctors has been for so many places", says a statement of the Ministry of Health for REL.

Family medicine specialist, Sami Uka, says that since 2000, the health authorities in Kosovo have made efforts to include occupational medicine in the framework of family medicine.

According to him, this approach is wrong, because, as he says, occupational health requires the commitment of specific doctors, with special preparation for the diseases of the working environment and for the working conditions that must be offered.

"Recently, this is an increased need, as we constantly have specific problems of workers, not only health problems, but also death, as a result of the lack of hygienic conditions and adequate working conditions. It is time to think seriously about this profile, which existed in the past", says Uka.

Mst: Why is occupational medicine important?

Naim Bajraktari runs a company in Pristina, which deals with safety assessment at work.

He says that employers suffer from the lack of occupational doctors.

"When pests or risk possibilities are discovered in a workplace, the one who determines the degree of risk is the occupational medicine specialist. We, as occupational safety experts, may be engineers, lawyers or biologists, but we are not doctors. We do not know with what measures and with what the workers should be treated", says Bajraktari for Radio Evropa e Lire.

According to the World Health Organization, the objectives of occupational medicine are: maintaining and promoting the health of workers, improving working conditions and the working environment, as well as developing work organization and work cultures.

According to the WHO, every year, 12.2 million people, mostly in developing countries, die from non-communicable diseases while they are still of active working age.

WHO continuously calls on countries to develop national policies and action plans for occupational health. /REL