Surviving with diabetes in Azerbaijan
To survive, one must be able to feed for oneself
In Azerbaijan, all people with diabetes are entitled to free treatment in public hospitals, but one has to be actually disabled by the disease to qualify for welfare benefits. The benefits are set at 127 manats [121USD], 50 manats [48USD] and 43 manats [41USD] for invalids from groups I, II and III, respectively. [One of the soviet time legacies, the division of the disabled into groups is based, primarily, on a calculation of degree of ability to work, with the group I invalidity status implying permanent loss of work capability]. Diabetics who are ‘lucky’ to have achieved retirement age [set at 63 years for men, and 60 for women] receive a monthly pension of 100 manats [about 100 USD], like all other pensioners do. But the state has nothing in the way of welfare to offer to younger and more able-bodied diabetics.
Careful when buying food
Any big-box store in Baku has a “diabetic foods department. Thousands of foodstuffs are presented as diabetics-friendly, but only a small fraction of them is actually suitable for people with the disease.
“A large part of what is sold in stores as diabetic produce is, in actuality, just ‘eating for good health’ stuff, said Nadir Feizullayev, director of a company trading in healthy foods in Azerbaijan. “It includes nutritional supplements for pregnant and lactating women, dietary products for hypertension-prone people or, merely, foods for weight loss.
Aware of how the disease works
Gulnara Mamedova, who is an endocrinologist at Baku’s Health Centre, says too many diabetics know too little about their condition. So, she says, very few of them understand what the glycenic index is. And know it, the fact foods with a high glycenic index speed through digestive system and can send blood sugar and insulin levels soaring, they must, if they don’t want to jeopardize themselves.
Persistent in one’s attempts to see doctor
Diabetics do get free treatment in Azerbaijan, though only after a long wait. Putting together all the necessary medical documentation, standing in all the right queues, seeking out and seeing the people who might help, arguing, squabbling, proving – it all may take years. “Meanwhile, the disease takes its toll on us, said Adalat Mahmudov, 55, a taxi driver in Baku. Diagnosed with diabetes nine years ago, he has only recently started his treatment in a public hospital. But try as he may, he’s failed to get the state pay him a benefit.
There’s a shortage of endocrinologists in Azerbaijan, especially in its provinces. The healthcare ministry has promised to have the problem solved. Recommendations have been worked up as to what needs to be done for the number of diabetes specialists to increase. But they have yet to be fully met, said deputy head of the Azerbaijani Diabetes Society Akif Mukhtarov.
In the meantime, the disease has been spreading rapidly. The official data have it that the number of diabetics has increased fivefold since 2005.