Annamaria-Adriana Petric - family doctor
Family doctor Annamaria-Adriana Petric parks her car outside a modest concrete cottage, where one of her patient’s lives with her family in a Roma community in the small town of Sântana, Romania.
We are in Arad in the north-western part of Romania, one of the counties that have registered a high number of measles during the current outbreak.
Entering the only room of the cottage Dr Petric finds her patient sitting beside a large family bed, where her two small children, a boy and a girl, are resting. Both have contracted measles, one after the other, but are now recovering. With eyes glassy from the remains of fever, they silently observe the doctor as she sits down to talk to their mother.
The children’s mother explains that they are better but still suffer from a poor appetite. When their faces broke out in a skin rash in conjunction with diarrhoea, she brought them to the hospital, since she had heard about the measles outbreak. Asked why she has not had her children vaccinated, she says they had a flu at the time when they were called to the health clinic, and since then she has been busy with other things.
The disease has been circulating in areas with low immunization coverage, where the general level of education is low. In many cases these are Roma communities. The families in these communities that frequently migrate within and out of the county do not always register their children with a family doctor, which leaves the children unvaccinated.
Dr Petric works long hours and often pays house calls. Together with the clinic’s assistant nurse she spends a great deal of time trying to convince sceptical patients to immunize their children. The nurse may call on a single family up to 10 times, to persuade them to come to the clinic, she says.
Addressing the outbreak and its causes
“Unfortunately the anti-vaccine movement has gained momentum in Romania in recent years. There is a lot of misinformation and false rumours going around, especially on the Internet. I try to convince my patients with statistics and scientific evidence, but sometimes it’s a question of them not wanting to go to the clinic,” says Dr Petric.
To counteract the current outbreak of measles in Romania, WHO has been working closely with the Ministry of Health to improve immunization coverage and increase awareness of the disease and the vaccine available to prevent it.
“Hopefully we can help create a network of representatives from the health authorities, community nurses, family doctors and Roma health mediators, who might previously have been acting independently of each other, and inspire them to work together in the future,” says Cassandra Butu, National Professional Officer at WHO Romania, after a field trip to Sântana and Arad.
Steady progress, one important step at a time
Back at the one-room cottage in Sântana, Dr Petric has finished checking the children’s temperature and listening to their chests. They are recovering nicely, she concludes. The doctor is pleased with the house call she has made this morning. The children’s mother has decided that as soon as her children are back on their feet, she will have them vaccinated.