Reaction to the Ministry of Health’s Recommendations for Protection from Cold Weather and Cold Waves 13 January 2017
The Helsinki Committee sent a letter to the Ministry of Health - Commission for Prevention of Harmful Effects of Cold Weather and Cold Waves reacting sharply to a statement published on January 9th, in which the Commission made recommendations for preventive actions due to the extremely low temperatures that hit the entire country. In its announcement, the Commission recommended that on Monday and Tuesday (January 9th and January 10th, 2017, with an announcement that recommendations will continue to apply if low temperatures in the country are persistent) pregnant women and chronically ill persons over the age of 60 years be released from work duties. The Commission addressed employers across the country with these recommendations with special emphasis on the region of Osogovo-Maleshevo, which includes Berovo, Pehchevo, Vinica, and Delchevo as well as the Polog region which includes Tetovo, Gostivar and Kichevo, all marked with orange weather alarm due to extremely low temperatures.
The Helsinki Committee warns that such suggested recommendations by the Commission of the Ministry of Health represent discrimination on grounds of age. Recommendations and measures for protection from cold weather should be based on health protection rather than on the age of the persons concerned. All persons who are not 60 years of age, i.e. are younger than 60, are being discriminated against. Chronic disease is a disease which affects people for long periods of time and it can occur in people of different ages and is often incurable. The Law on Health Protection (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia, no. 43/2012 of 29.03.2012) stipulates that everyone is entitled to health protection and the obligation to protect and promote their health in accordance with this Law and other laws and no one is allowed to endanger the health of others.
According to the Principle of fairness in Article 9 of this Law, health protection shall be attained by prohibition of discrimination in the provision of health protection with regard to race, gender, age, nationality, social background, religious belief, political or other convictions, property status, culture, language, type of disease, mental or physical disability. The Ministry’s recommendation for release from work for the chronically ill is in accordance with the Law that includes the special protection for this category of people along with pregnant women, but in no case should it be conditioned by a person’s age. In that regard, we would like to point to the protection against discrimination on grounds of age stated in Article 3 of the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination, which stipulates that any direct or indirect discrimination, invocation and stimulation of discrimination and helping in discriminatory treatment on the grounds of age is prohibited.
For these reasons, several people with chronic diseases addressed the Helsinki Committee and the public demanding that recommendations apply to all chronic patients without any age restrictions because each year, in extremely cold or extremely hot weather, the Ministry of Health gives these recommendations only for chronic patients over 60 years of age thus excluding all persons younger than that age, especially young people with severe chronic diseases.
Therefore, the Helsinki Committee in its letter asks the Ministry of Health through the Commission for Prevention of Harmful Effects of Cold weather and Cold Waves to issue new recommendations that apply during extremely low temperatures in the state and will include pregnant women and chronically ill persons without age restrictions. In addition, the Committee requests that future recommendations provided by the Ministry and referring to extremely low and extremely high temperatures be applied without age restrictions for the chronically ill. Otherwise, the Helsinki Committee is prepared to take appropriate measures for protection against discrimination in accordance with national legislation on behalf of the chronically ill people who addressed the Committee.