Health and safety in Albania

Health

Albania is no more dangerous from a health point of view than any other country in southeastern Europe. It is a good idea in general to keep up to date with vaccinations against tetanus, polio and diphtheria. In the UK these are normally given together and should be boosted every ten years. Other vaccinations that are worth considering, depending on what you plan to do in Albania, are those against hepatitis A and B. There have been no cases of human rabies in Albania since the 1970s. Malaria was eradicated from Albania in the 1930s.

If you are involved in an accident or a medical emergency, call an ambulance on 127. Outside the big cities, however, it may be quicker to use a taxi; say to the driver ‘tek urgjenca’, meaning ‘to accident and emergency’. You will be given the best treatment possible.

In Tirana and other cities, there are now good non-state hospitals, with the latest technological equipment, which offer a full range of medical services up to and including heart bypasses and neurosurgery. The standard of dental practices is very variable – there are some good ones in Tirana – and you should seek local advice, perhaps at your hotel.

In small towns and rural areas, health care can be a problem. State hospitals are often short-staffed, with equipment that is old and sometimes does not work at all; many rural clinics have closed altogether. If you intend to travel outside the cities and are reliant on a specific medication, you should ensure you take an adequate supply with you. During the Covid-19 pandemic, summer health centres opened at places popular with tourists, such as beach resorts; it is possible that this innovation may continue in future years.

For minor ailments, remedies such as painkillers or antiseptic ointment can be bought over the counter in pharmacies. Opticians can make repairs to spectacle frames or replace lenses fairly quickly. Disinfecting solution for contact lenses is stocked by a few opticians in Tirana and other big cities. The international-style supermarkets in Tirana and other large cities stock tampons.

Safety

Albania is a safe country for visitors. Its traditions of hospitality mean foreigners are treated with great respect; almost all Albanians will go out of their way to help you if you are lost or in trouble. In general, violent crime in Albania happens either within the underworld of organised crime or in the context of a blood feud. A foreign visitor is highly unlikely to come into contact with either of these categories.

Nevertheless, there are poor and desperate people in Albania, as there are in any other country, and thefts and muggings do occur. It is foolish to flash expensive watches, phones or cameras around, especially in the peripheral areas of towns where the poorest people tend to live. Some travellers carry a dummy wallet with a small amount of cash in it, so that in the event of a mugging they can hand this over instead of their ‘real’ wallet full of dollars or euros.

The greatest risk most people in Albania face is on the roads, where traffic accidents are very frequent and the fatality rate is one of the highest in Europe. Until a decade or so ago, Albanian roads were so bad that it was difficult to drive fast enough to kill anyone. Now, though, cars zip along newly upgraded highways which are also used by villagers and their livestock. There is no stigma attached to drink-driving and little attempt is made to check it.

Women travellers

Foreign women are treated with respect in Albania, although the same respect is not always shown to Albanian women. Domestic violence, in particular, is very prevalent and almost always unreported. Outside the home, however, women are at less risk of sexual assault or rape than in any northern European country. Of course, these crimes are not completely unknown, but they are rare enough to make headline news when they happen.

Black and minority ethnic travellers

Black and minority ethnic (BAME) visitors to Albania sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of treatment that, although not racist in its intent, can make the visitor feel uncomfortable – for example, children or even adults stroking or pinching your skin out of curiosity. Occasionally, however, BAME visitors have been verbally and even physically abused by groups of racists. There have also been sporadic reports of racist behaviour by some hotel owners.

Lesbian and gay travellers

Homosexuality is legal in Albania. A law passed in 2010 specifically protects its citizens against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, while a 2013 amendment to the criminal code added sexual orientation and gender identity to the grounds for charges of hate crimes. However, it is still rather taboo and the LGBTI community generally keeps a low profile. Almost no public figures are openly gay. That said, however, lesbian or gay travellers are unlikely to encounter hostility or discrimination in Albania, assuming they behave with reasonable discretion (as they probably would in an unfamiliar town in their own country). A couple of bars in Tirana advertise ‘gay-friendly’ evenings.

Travellers with a disability

In 2013, Albania ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which sets targets for improving legislation, access and employment for people with disabilities. This was a positive step and progress has been made since then. However, Albania is still a challenging destination for people with physical disabilities, particularly users of wheelchairs. Most communist-era museums and other public buildings were built with steep stairs and other obstacles, although more and more now have ramps which provide access at least to the ground floor. Outside the central areas of the larger cities, few pavements in Albania have dropped kerbs and pedestrian crossing lights rarely have acoustic signals. Braille is not widely used. Public buses and most taxis are completely inaccessible for wheelchair users. All that said, however, people with reduced mobility will find Albanians eager (possibly overeager) to assist when necessary.

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