Action for Mothers and Children is dedicated to saving lives and improving the health of infants, mothers, and children in Kosovo through various projects and programs.
Together with the community, stakeholders, and supporters, they advocate better healthcare for women, mothers, and children and develop and implement programs and projects to improve health outcomes for women and children in Kosovo.
Vlorian Molliqaj, Executive Director, Albiona Beha, Hana Bucinca, Okarina Gorani, and Labërie Carreti, program officers, Elvanda Gojani, Coordinator of K10 program, Vesa Kada, Fundraising Manager, and Hana Kurti PR & Event Officer told us everything about the mission, activities and future plans of Action for Mothers and Children.
How was Action for Mothers and Children established? What changed from the beginning to this day?
Vlorian: AMC was founded to address high rates of infant mortality and to save the lives of mothers and children in Kosovo after the Kosovo war. With the support and partnership of local, national, and international partners, significant progress has been made, but much remains to be done.
Many supporters from Kosovo and Dartmouth Medical School gathered and initially founded the “Foundation for Healthy Mothers and Babies” in 2009 with the simple goal to save the lives of mothers and their children in Kosovo, under the initiative of Dr. James Strickler, Emeritus Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the International Rescue Committee and Emeritus Dean at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. The impetus for creating this new non-profit organization emanates from USAID-funded reproductive health programs that have been implemented by Doctors of the World, AIHA, Americares, the Dartmouth Medical School, and their many colleagues in Kosovo. Influential individuals from health, business, culture, and economic sectors from Kosovo, the US, and the diaspora joined the efforts to support the cause and grew the foundation into today’s “Action for Mothers and Children” since 2013.
Action for Mothers and Children is a not-for-profit organization (NGO) developing health programs in the Republic of Kosovo. AMC believes that every child and mother has the right to a healthy life, regardless of where they are or what means they have.
Since the establishment of our foundation, maternal and child care has progressed a lot, even though there is still a lot to do. More than 3 million dollars in medicament and medical equipment have been donated to our healthcare institutions, and thousands of healthcare providers have been trained.
What was your motivation to work in the nonprofit sector?
Vlorian: I lived in Sweden for more than five years and did finish my master’s studies there in Public Health. Seeing how the health system works there, especially when it comes to mothers’ and children’s health, and at the same time seeing the big challenges that the health system in Kosovo was facing, made me take the “big decision” to come back to my home country and contribute here in 2018. After being familiar with AMC’s great work, without hesitation, I decided to join this fantastic group of people and work actively to address the problems that were negatively impacting the health of mothers and children. It’s been more than four years now, and I feel that this was the best decision in my life, which I’ll never regret. Saving the lives of newborns, and improving the health of mothers and children, is my biggest motivation and makes me think about my future within the nonprofit sector.
Which activities are you most focused on at this moment?
Albiona, and Laberie: AMC has its own Strategic Plan, which focuses on improving the health of mothers and children. Our current Strategic Plan for the period of 2022-2025 has five main objectives:
- Reduction of infant and neonatal mortality rates;
- Reduction of mortality and morbidity among women;
- Reduction of morbidity and mortality among children;
- Contributing to efforts in addressing violence against women and child abuse;
- Increase contribution and philanthropic awareness in Kosovo and Diaspora;
- Albiona Beha
Our current programs/projects that we are implementing include the Medicament and Medical equipment program, where, in cooperation with many donors and international organizations, we provide medications and medical equipment that are essential to saving the lives of mothers and children. Thanks to our cooperation with Americares, we secured Surfactant, a medication used to develop lungs in premature infants. In addition, we provide prenatal vitamins, amoxicillin, contraceptives, and other medical supplies that contribute directly to mothers’ and children's health. In addition, we have installed the oxygen system at the Neonatology Clinic; donated the Ultrasound device for sonography to diagnose heart abnormalities in infants; the CPAP equipment to regulate breathing in infants; the CRP device in Neonatology with which blood tests are currently conducted in the clinic and not in labs outside; phototherapy lamps for the treatment of jaundice in children; as well as incubators that save about 150 infants per year.
Another program is the Women's Health Resource Centers – Mothers' Classes. So far, we have established 14 information centers on women's health integrated into health institutions at the primary level. The main purpose of this program is to educate women, starting from family planning to pregnancy and birth. Women learn from videos, educational lectures, small group sessions, and direct conversations with midwives, nurses, or gynecologists, all in a diverse and multi-colored environment.
In 2022, the Women's Health Resource Centers (WHRC) provided services to 2,648 women and girls, while over 10,000 pregnant women and parents have benefited from WHRC services since 2015.
Hana: Supported by UNFPA, we are the initiators and complementors of the cervical cancer screening program in Kosovo through which free Pap- tests are offered for women and girls in Kosovo in order to prevent cervical cancer. Free Pap tests are offered through this program at the primary level for women and girls in the Municipality of Pristina, Prizren, Mitrovica, and Peja to prevent cervical cancer and to increase the chances of early detection. Our goal is to expand this program in other municipalities as well so that screenings can be offered to all women in Kosovo in the future. To date, over 11,000 free Pap tests have been offered to women and girls of our country through this program to prevent cervical cancer before it occurs in the womb, as well as to allow girls to have the chance to be screened early.
Albiona: The Home Visiting program for pregnant women and children 0-3 years old is a program of the Ministry of Health, supported by UNICEF in Kosovo through the funds of the Government of Luxembourg, and is being implemented by Action for Mothers and Children. The program aims to improve access to primary health care services for pregnant women, children under the age of three, and their parents, especially for the most vulnerable households. The home visiting program is integrated into the functions of Primary Health Care (PHC), complementary to facility-based practice, and part of a continuum of care. Home visits help families identify newborn problems, including signs of illness, and at the same time support the practices of breastfeeding, and vaccinations, where we also contribute to the child’s growth and development to achieve the full potential of the child. Home visits are conducted by the primary health care providers according to the approved standards of the program. The home visiting package includes a standard number of visits: two visits provided to women during their pregnancy and five visits to children between a child’s birth and the child reaching three years of age, with additional visits provided based on specific family needs. Home Visiting Program has reached over 80,000 children aged 0-3 and 15,000 pregnant women since the inception of the program, and 37,335 home visits were made during 2022 to pregnant women and children between the ages of 0 and 3, with 16.375 children between the ages of 0 and 3 being visited for the first time. The number of fathers involved during home visits in 2022 is over 5000. Currently, the Home Visiting program is implemented in all the municipalities of Kosovo.
Labërie, and Okarina: Another project that we are implementing is Group Care in the first 1000 days, which is an international project funded by the European Union through the HORIZON 2020 program and is led by a consortium of partners from the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Suriname -South America, Ghana, and Kosovo. The main objective of this project is to implement group care of pregnant women during the first 1000 days in seven different high-, middle- and low-income countries.
Antenatal Care in the Group aims for pregnant women to share experiences and learn from each other, and discuss the concerns they encounter during pregnancy together by learning from each other’s experiences and from the various tips that are given by health professionals for a healthier pregnancy.
Currently, we are implementing this project in Lipjan and Prizren. From February 2023, we will expand the project in Prishtina, Vushtrri, and Viti municipalities.
Okarina: With the support of UNICEF, we started implementing the ‘Child Nutrition’ program focusing on the tools, guidelines/menus, and recommendations for healthy nutrition for children, which were developed, approved, and disseminated by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and will also be integrated into preschool and primary school curricula, all to create healthy eating habits among children. Moreover, we implemented awareness-raising campaigns, training with teachers and educators, and sessions with parents and children in primary schools.
Elvanda: AMC also leads the Coalition of Organisations on Reproductive Health Rights called K10, which represents a coalition of ten non-governmental organizations aiming to improve sexual reproductive health and advancing reproductive rights. Created under the initiative of Action for Mothers and Children (AMC) and with the support of UNFPA - Kosovo Office, K10 is the first Coalition of its kind in Kosovo, addressing the numerous challenges that Kosovo faces regarding sexual reproductive health and reproductive rights. Since 2016, we have been working on consolidating the efforts of some organizations in the field of sexual reproductive health by creating a joint advocacy body that influences the improvement of policies promoting reproductive health rights in Kosovo.
In the long run, the coalition aims to improve the policy, legal framework, and awareness of reproductive health and reproductive health rights in Kosovo through regular evidence-based advocacy work of civil society organizations mobilized as a Coalition.
In the mid-run, the Coalition K10 intends to advocate with government decision-makers on the importance of budgeting for the spending materials related to reproductive sexual health and to advise the Ministry of Health on the implementation of a strategic plan for family planning and promotion of reproductive rights.
How is your association funded? Which types of donors do you work with the most, and how? How can someone support your work?
Vlorian: We believe that to be a sustainable organization, it’s a MUST to diversify the funds. That’s why we try to use different tools and methods to get funded. Currently, I could say that we have four main sources of funding, which are:
1. Grants and partnerships with national and international organizations/institutions (including governmental institutions, UN Agencies, EU, Americares, and other international foundations/institutions;
2. Private donors (corporates, companies, and individuals) in Kosovo and Diaspora. We do organize annual fundraising events in Kosovo and Diaspora, where companies and individuals can join and donate to support our cause;
3. Social Enterprise - AMC established a second-hand shop which is called Teshavesha. Teshavesha was opened in 2016, and since then, it has grown thanks to the contribution of our citizens steadily. The model of the shop is such that it invites citizens to donate clothes that they no longer use and then sell them at symbolic prices. Teshavesha’s mission is to raise funds to support the health programs of the Foundation ‘Action for Mothers and Children’ within the Republic of Kosovo, open up new jobs for marginalized women, recycling of textile materials and products in Kosovo.
How does your organization contribute to the development of philanthropy in Kosovo?
Vesa and Hana Kurti: Since the establishment of our foundation, we have been committed together with the support of our donors and partners to improve the health system to the level where every mother and every child, regardless of socio-economic status, can receive quality health services in our country without the need to seek financial support for medical treatment abroad. We are aware that we also have a lot of work to do, but at the same time, we have a clear vision of what awaits us throughout this journey. And we are very happy that the continuous generosity and unwavering support from many well-wishers and donors motivate us never to cease our efforts and follow this path always accompanied by you. The role of philanthropy can bring fundamental changes to Kosovo, particularly in terms of strengthening its health care system. Furthermore, it is crucial to build relationships between the philanthropic communities in Kosovo and the United States. To raise awareness about the importance and role of philanthropy in Kosovo, AMC is committed to organizing several fundraising events in Kosovo, Zurich, and USA among the Albanian diaspora.
As part of our public relations and awareness efforts, AMC has established a social media presence on different digital media platforms. Having this presence keeps our donors, partners, stakeholders, collaborators, and community informed of AMC's achievements, results, and overall mission. The television and radio media programs we participate in throughout the year are used to raise awareness and advocate AMC's mission which is to save lives and improve the health of infants, children, and mothers in the Republic of Kosovo.
We use our voice to solicit philanthropic awareness and support for our work, advocate, raise awareness, and educate through various educating and informing campaigns that promote our health programs and our work.
Do you cooperate with other non-profit organizations? Can you tell me more about that?
Vlorian: AMC has established and continues cultivating partnerships with all maternal and childcare stakeholders in Kosovo, including government institutions, public health institutions, and local and international non-profit organizations. AMC has been working and coordinating closely with the Ministry of Health, UN Agencies in Kosovo, public healthcare institutions at all levels, and municipal health authorities. In addition, AMC leads the Coalition of NGOs K10 which advocates and implements projects in MCH (Main Family Centers) and reproductive health.
AMC has a special affiliation with Dartmouth College, with a specific focus on its ongoing cooperation with the Dickey Center at the Dartmouth Global Health office. Moreover, AMC is part of a consortium led by TNO (Netherlands) Group Care Global (USA) and ten other international member organizations.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Hana Bucinca: We believe that we need to strengthen the health system. We at AMC believe that the root of the problem should be addressed. Because only with a strong and developed health system we will not face such big challenges. Because with a health system where there is no lack of medical equipment and essential medicaments and where the capacities of health workers are constantly raised, every child and every woman will be able to be treated, regardless of their economic and social conditions.
Some of the challenges we are facing day to day are:
- COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the health sector and other sectors
- Limited sustainability of achieved results due to limited timelines of projects and poor absorption capacity of institutions/government and motivation of staff to maintain good practices and changes
- Frequent turnover of staff of the MoH - Ministry of Health and insufficient MOH - Ministry of Health human resource capacities that deal with Main Family Medicine Centers
- Unregulated relationship between the public and private provision of healthcare services, with more and more service provision offered through the private sector
- Low government funding for health and lack of political support for MOH
What do you consider your greatest success, and what is next?
Vlorian: Over the past years, we have reached several important milestones and are continuing to grow in impact thanks to the generosity of our donors and good cooperation with our partners. Some of the key results include:
- The lives of more than 5,000 babies in Kosovo were saved thanks to the Surfactant medicament and the use of CPAP;
- About 2,000 babies have used the Oxygen System and CRP so far;
- Incubators are used by more than 4,000 babies;
- We have opened 14 Women’s Health Information Centers ‘Classes for Mothers’ which have benefited more than 10,000 pregnant women and parents so far;
- Medical equipment and medications worth over € 3,000,000 were donated to the Neonatology and Pediatrics Clinic and other healthcare institutions.
This year, we plan to continue with our current projects and programs. Some of the specific results that we commit to achieve during 2023 include:
- Providing essential life-saving medications to around 400 premature babies;
- Providing prenatal vitamins, amoxicillin, IUDs, and other medications to 3,000 women;
- Educating more than 2,000 parents on family planning, early pregnancy, childbirth, and the prenatal and postnatal period;
- Providing health services through the Home Visiting Program to more than 40,000 pregnant women and children 0-3 years old;
- Supporting 25,000 women to get screened for cervical cancer by providing free Pap tests.
This interview is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Catalyst Balkans and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
The Citizen Engagement Activity in Kosovo is a five-year initiative implemented by Kosovar Civil Society Foundation (KCSF) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).