The state of emergency in Serbia due to the epidemic of COVID-19 was declared on 15 of March, including cessation of inter-city travel as well as public transportation in cities, prohibition of larger gatherings, especially indoors, restriction of movement for the general population with curfew during nights and a 24/7 curfew for the population over 65 assessed to be at the highest risk effects of the infection. The state of emergency lasted until 10 of May with additional movement restriction introduced for weekends to reduce the possibility of viral spread. The epidemic is still declared in Serbia to this day with the number of new confirmed infections varying between 50 and 100 in the last three weeks.
HumanaS, as a network of civil society organisations working alongside and for older persons, primarily focusing on public advocacy and policy influencing, however, its members also provide in a wide variety services to older persons, especially those belonging to more vulnerable categories – such as older women, older persons with chronic conditions, older persons with mental health conditions etc. Having in mind the extreme restriction of movement for older persons during the COVID-19 epidemic in Serbia and the resulting needs ranging from health and nutrition through hygiene articles to psychological first aid and support, HumanaS Network members used their capacity in a variety of ways to ensure older persons’ needs are met.
The Red Cross of Serbia Recorded 352,904 distinct activities of its 2,823 volunteers in 139 teams across 161 municipalities during 222,782 hours, providing support and help to persons in need between 17 March and 10 May. Additionally, 685 professional Red Cross associates provided 131,534 hours of service. The Red Cross of Serbia activities ranged from organising distribution of food and hygiene items for families and older persons in need of food and hygiene support, through continuing to run soup kitchen and voluntary blood donation programmes – with heightened safety measures – to organising telephone helplines to provide up to date, reliable information on the epidemic as well as psychological first aid and psychosocial support. 127 different telephone lines staffed by volunteers trained in provision of psychological first aid and psychosocial support were regularly at the disposal of the population in need in addition to four text message services for persons with hearing impairments. With UNFPA support, special telephone services were organised to provide support and counsel related to human rights and discrimination (with Commissioner for Protection of Equality providing these servicves), health counsel and psychological support provided by trained psychologists, as well as information and psychosocial support in English for foreign citizens in Serbia. Special support for older persons included organising telephone circles for mutual support of older persons in local communities, coordinated and organised by trained volunteers, in order to decrease the effects of long isolation and ensure older persons in need of health or other services are identified on time.
Philanthropy – Charity Foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church worked in the Kragujevac area during the state of emergency. It had to stop its regular activity of providing IT classes for older persons (supported by Brot für die Welt organisation and the Austrian Government) but it could then focus on its gerontocarers service that was much more needed in the situation where older persons were unable to leave their houses – serving as a source of both practical and psychosocial support. This service was redesigned to introduce heightened safety measures and minimase any risk of older persons being exposed to the infection. Philanthropy also provided shelter for older persons in need of temporary lodgings with support of the City of Kragujevac, the Red Cross of Kragujevac and several other organisations and institutions. In Belgrade, Philanthropy provided food and hygiene support for older persons living with HIV with Brot für die Welt support.
Help Net continued its gerontocarer service to ensure older persons in Kosovo and Metohija were safely and regularly supported during the lockdown and isolation period. It was also very active in providing timely, accurate and reliable information to older persons through establishing viber support groups, that also included the work of younger persons.
Caritas Serbia continued its gerontocarer services, providing regular and safe assistance to older persons in isolation. These activities were coordinated with local administrations to ensure the highest attainable safety level for both older beneficiaries as well as the service providers. Additionally, Caritas Serbia had several distribution actions of food for older persons in need as well as the personal protection equipment.
ISP Evergreen continued organising its regular activities of intergenerational club for researchers, but due to prohibition of gatherings and lockdown for older persons, it switched to using online means. A Skype platform for socialisation, intergenerational exchange and support during the epidemic was established. This enabled the organisation to actually increase the frequency of its activities and have integrenerational online meetings and exchange of support twice as frequently than what is the regular schedule.
Bread of Life provided assistance and support to 209 vulnerable older households. 81 households were provided relief assistance and services including regular distribution of food, hygiene items and medicines, as well as adult diapers for incontinent beneficiaries living with dementia. Another 128 households were assisted and supported through provision of psychosocial support and counsel. This was provided via telephone through engagement of professionals: social workers, nurses, gerontocarers, andragogues as well as a psychiatrist providing support for persons caring for an older family member with dementia.
Amity was active in providing support to older persons and their informal carers/ family members through providing telephone counsel every working day staffed by a social worker. At the same time, in Kragujevac and Čačak Amity had active counseling services for informal carers caring for an older family member living with dementia. These services were provided by psychiatrists and more than 100 beneficiaries were assisted over the period.
Volunteer Service Zvezdara continued providing its home care service for older persons and introduced heightened safety measures to ensure safety of both beneficiaries and volunteers. At the same time, volunteers staffed the telephone helpline providing information and psychosocial support to older persons. The total number of beneficiaries receiving services at home were 40, with 180 being provided psychosocial support and legal counsel over the telephone. Additionally, the Service also continued providing educational programmes – such as English language courses – via telephone and communication apps.