Who is responsible for his death?
Alexander Abaev, 39, a resident of South Ossetia, died in Tskhinval on July 7. His death evoked a wide outcry both in his homeland and in Georgia.
The story of his life and death
Alexander Abaev had resided in South Ossetia since March 2011. He was a famous tattoo artist and had a tattoo parlor in Tskhinval. In November 2011, he got married to Elde Tasoeva. In July of that year, Tasoeva was diagnosed HIV positive right before going into labor, and she gave birth to a child with HIV. In December 2012, the child became ill and its health condition deteriorated. In January the following year, the mother and child were sent to Tbilisi with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only international organization which operates in South Ossetia.
Doctors failed to save the child. On March 3, 2013, after the child was buried, Alexander Abaev was arrested for purposefully infecting his spouse, Elda Tasoeva, with HIV.
Abaev’s relatives, in turn, believe it was their former daughter-in-law, Elda Tasoeva, who infected Alexander. In their opinion, the investigation and subsequent trial were conducted with legal violations. Alexander Abaev was found guilty and sentenced to 4 years in prison under Article 122ii.
In 2015, Abaev was released from prison under amnesty. Apart from HIV, he has also been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and a severe form of tuberculosis. The treatment in the turbuculosis dispensary, Vladikavkaz, was unsuccessful and he applied to Tbilisi for medical assistance. He was cured from the highly contagious form of tuberculosis, but he was refused to be provided treatment against the other diseases he had. Alexander Abaev returned to Tskhinval, where he died.
The outcry in Georgia
The news about Alexander Abaev’s death caused numerous resentful comments from Georgian social media users.
“They’d better not deceive people by their promises to put you in their programs and to take care of you.
“Should a dying person be returned to Tskhinval just because he failed to collect the necessary documents? Are you going to restore relations that way?
“He should have been treated even without any documents. Haven’t you heard anything about PR?
The fact that there were special programs for medical assistance to the citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia caused indignation because Alexander Abaev was unable to benefit from them.
As early as in August 2015 in Vladikavkaz, Abaev had sent a letter to the Georgian Health Ministry describing his health condition and asking for treatment. The Ministry covered only a diagnostic examination (111 GEL) at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, 355 GEL at tje Aversi Clinic and 1,355 GEL at the Infectious Hospital).
As for treatment, it turned out that Abaev could not take advantage of the treatment programs because treatment requited a neutral form of ID.
According to Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, Deputy State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, 366,486.23 GEL worth of medications (for immunization, the treatment of diabetes and tuberculosis) were sent to Abkhazia in 2015. The ministry’s report does not provide any data on medicine sent to South Ossetia.
1,537 people (891 people from Abkhazia, 646 from Tskhinval) appealed to the Office of the State Minister of Georgia for the Reconciliation and Civic Equality in 2015, requesting assistance for those undergoing treatment. According to the State Minister’s Office, 4,267,512 GEL was spent on treatment of these people.
The Georgian Health Ministry does not possess any data on the number of residents in the conflict regions who have been included in the Hepatitis C treatment program.
As it was stated in a letter from the Scientific and Practical Center for Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology, which was sent in response to Abaev’s statement, for outpatient and inpatient treatment, as well as in order to receive anti-retroviral drugs as part of the state program, a patient should possess a document confirming Georgian citizenship or the so-called, neutral ID.
Alexander Abaev applied to the Ministry of Justice for a neutral ID, but he was refused. It was written in the reply letter legal grounds for refusing to issue his neutral ID had been uncovered while his application was being considered.
Under Georgian legislation, there are four factors which prevent a person from obtaining a neutral ID: a) if he/she is wanted by law-enforcement agencies; b) if he/she has produced false or expired documents; c) if the relevant agencies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not confirm his photo identity; d) if the Georgian Interior Ministry considers it inappropriate to provide a neutral identity based on national and public interests.
The letter that was sent in response to Alexander Abaev’s appeal did not specify, however, the reason his application was turned down. Therefore, in Georgia he was only able to receive emergency medical assistance in the Ghudushauri hospital where he was provided medical treatment for contagious forms of tuberculosis (it is provided to the foreigners as well).
Following Abaev’s discharge from the National Center for Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, the head of the center, Zaza Avaliani, gave an interview to the magazine, Liberal, stating that his patient had been eradicated from a highly contagious form of the disease. Abaev’s aunt, Marina Bipieva, who lives in Tbilisi, told the same publication that Abaev was still in critical condition, but the clinic refused to admit him.
He was transferred to the multiphasic clinic, Redishi, where he stayed in the intensive care unit. Alexander Abaev tried to apply for a neutral ID for a second time, but due to his physical condition, he failed to collect all the necessary documents for it.
The outcry in Tskhinval
In South Ossetia, Alexander Abaev’s death sparked a reaction mostly from his relatives and human rights activists.
Zara Bepieva, Alexander Abaev’s mother stated:
“My son’s death is the result of inadequate treatment that he received in the Tskinval Infectious Clinic #1, where he was also serving the sentence for a crime that he, in reality, hadn’t committed.
Irina Yanovskaya, the head of the “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO stated:
“The priority for us was to find out whether the convict, Abaev, appropriate treatment against such diseases as HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis. Our intervention helped to eliminate any delays in the administration of his medications, but it was obvious that with such serious diseases, medical treatment was not enough.
One can only receive serious treatment outside of the republic, which seems unfeasable, considering that there is no agreement with the Russian Federation on escorting prisoners across the border. Regrettably, the court rejected Abaev’s appeal for parole based on his health condition.
After some time had passed, an amnesty was announced in connection to the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, and this applied to Abaev as well.
However, no one hurried to release Abaev under amnesty. He had to appeal to the Prosecutor General of South Ossetia.
South Ossetian authorities don’t approve of their citizens traveling to Georgia for medical treatment, unless it is in cases of emergency. The people who do leave, try not to keep their journeys on the down low. People who have someone ill in their family are more understanding of people who travel for treatment, while people who don’t have any health problems in their family, reproach those who do.
An official from the Ministry of Health and Social Development, who wished to remain anonymous stated:
“There are emergencies where if our hospital comes to the conclusion that it is unable to save a man’s life, then, upon the request of the patient’s relatives’, the Ministry of Health timely contacts the Foreign Ministry and the emergency patient is taken to Georgia with the help of technical assistance from the Red Cross.
We send emergency patients to Georgia on the request of their relatives, but not as part of a Georgian program. We are doctors and not politicians. The Hippocratic oath is still in effect. Our patients are sent to Georgia for emergency professional assistance, since it takes a long time to transport a patient in critical condition to Vladikavkaz and at the same time, the road is not always reliable, since there is the risk that a patient won’t survive the trip. There have been rumors that some people travel to Georgia for treatment by their own means, but those are just rumors.
There have been no cases of AIDS in Tskhinval municipal outpatient clinics. As a rule, these problems are diagnosed outside of South Ossetia, in the AIDS center located in Vladikavkaz. Over 200 people have been diagnosed hepatitis C positive.
The opinions expressed in this article convey the author’s views and his/her use of terminology does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editorial staff.
Published on: 17. 07. 2016