Northwestern Bulgaria - the region has the lowest-ranked economy in Bulgaria and the European Union (Eurostat data). Only 7 kilometers from the Danube River lies the village of Galovo. According to the last census 239 people, inhabit it. Back in 1946, they were close to 1700 and 100 children attended the now empty school.
Our host is Boyan Dimitrov, age 78, who is one of the 14 people in the village using a new and unique for Bulgaria service, provided by the Bulgarian Red Cross (BRC). The aim is to have a 24 hours health monitoring with support by a project funded by the EEA Grants. During our visit, we are joined by Ms. Rumyana Dekova – Head of the BRC Home Care Center in the nearest large town – Oryahovo. She gave us some insights on the launch of the initiative: “Our start was difficult as we faced mistrust. We got a lot of help the Mayor of Oryahovo and our good cooperation with the institutions.” The village has three major problems: aging population, lack of access to healthcare (11 years ago the hospital in the nearest large city Oryahovo was closed) and lack of public transport. There is only one bus to Oryahovo per day and since it is run by a private company, prices are unbearable for the elderly people in the village.
Boyan lives in Galovo since 1965. During his youth, he was a stockbreeder with 250 sheep and 200 chickens while his wife took care of a large number of cows. He had a very active life but the years brought him a number of illnesses. He tries to count them, but the fingers in both his hands are not enough. The worst ones are arthrosis and immobilization with the cold and hard winter making the situation even more difficult. What is worse, according to him, is the loneliness. His wife is currently in a hospital, but otherwise both are inseparable. „The good thing is that we are together and we love to talk. Life is difficult when you are alone. She is in the hospital for 12 days now, but to me it feels like 120 years. At night, when I go to bed my mind is with her. That is how I fall asleep.”
This is where the Bulgarian Red Cross comes to help with two types of smart devices, which monitor health indicators such as body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, body position and many others. There is also a very useful button for cases of emergency. One of the devices is a smart bracelet/watch, while the other is on the body chest. Both of them are sending information in real time to a dedicated computer in a command center in the city of Vratsa. The team working in the command center acts according to each case with phone calls or home visits.
In addition, oncer per week a team from the BRC Home Care network visits the couple and helps them with shopping, cleaning, contacts with doctors, purchase of medicines, etc. “It’s not easy to get credit of trust, but the Bulgarian Red Cross has a strong reputation, so we succeeded with the launch of the service. Even after the first visit you already see the change – our hosts are all dressed up, with positive mood and confidence. You can see that they are happy even only because somebody gives them a visit,” shares Ms. Dekova.
It is so easy to see how happy is Stoyan to be part of the health monitoring system: “I feel calm. I am often called by the phone to check how I feel. Once per week I get visits and a help with home activities. The team is great and they give words of comfort that bring healing,” he shares. Ms. Dekova adds that the relatives are also very positive. Often they live quite far from their parents and grandparents and feel calm knowing that a specialist monitors the health condition and will give them a warning in case of emergency. There were some worries how elder people will deal with the new technology. However, time helps and we managed to go through this. Stoyan, for example, has no issues using a smartphone, making video calls, charging and using the devices, while doing the same for his wife.
Going back to the health monitoring devices, they bring a number of additional benefits with a history and statistics that are used by doctors for diagnostics and prescriptions. A total of 500 people benefit from the service. All of them suffer chronic diseases and permanent disabilities, living in the municipalities of Vratsa, Vidin and Montana. The participation requires formal approval by a commission and the signature of a contract. Another important result to be noted – content of everyone involved in the projet – the Red Cross team and the end users and their relatives who are happy with the quality service provided.