To live or to die
Indeed, it is no secret that Abkhazians go to Georgia for medical treatment, one could say, by the hundreds.
The Georgian based resource Аbkhazeti.info recently published the story of a six-year-old child in critical condition, who was allowed across the border without necessary formalities by an Abkhazian border guard.
According to witnesses, the border guard said that his mother is suffering from cancer. “Georgian doctors hold my mother’s life in their hands. I will let a kid across the border, even if that means I am going to lose my job, he said.
Another Abkhazian has recently expressed his gratitude on Facebook to Georgian doctors and all the people who helped to save one of his relatives.
Cases of Abkhazians openly expressing their gratitude to Georgian medics are uncommon because of public criticism. But a lot of people do go to Georgia for medical treatment.
The subject has become a matter of discussion only recently. And the question remains: what makes Abkhazians go to Tbilisi for treatment, and what matters more, one’s life or one’s principles?
Poor healthcare in Abkhazia
The problem has two sides, the humanitarian and political one. The major reason that people are sent to Georgia is the critical state of healthcare in Abkhazia.
Ruslan Smyr, a surgeon at the Republican Clinic, names two basic problems, the lack of sophisticated equipment and of cardio surgeons, allergists, infectologists and other specialists.
“As a result, one has to make a choice about where to go – to Georgia or to Russia. Georgia has the proper conditions for our people to go there and get the necessary treatment. That is why people opt for Georgia.
The most common reasons that people cross the border for medical aid, as Ruslan Smyr claims, are cancer, postaccident injuries, infectious diseases, as well as AIDS and hepatitis.
“I’ve had problems with my kidneys since childhood. I cannot afford treatment in Russia because I am the only one in the family who earns any money. If I were to pay for the treatment, my kids would starve, states Yuri Gindiya, a resident of Sukhum.
His relatives live in Georgia and have helped him with obtaining information.
“When I came to Tbilisi, they were expecting me. I felt welcome. I spent about a month there, and nobody demanded any money from me. The treatment was free. I also want to note the high level of healthcare, the up-to-date equipment, highly qualified staff and the modern clinic. I went through one phase of recovery and plan to return there soon for the next one.
Yiri says that he was called a traitor by some of his acquaintances after they discovered that he had gone to Tbilisi for medical treatment. “But I do not think I have betrayed my motherland. I have accepted help that cannot be provided at home.
“I went to Georgia for gynecological treatment, which is unaffordable in Abkhazia because of the lack of specialists capable of conducting the necessary operation. Relatives in Georgia informed me of the program there, the woman stated, keeping herself anonymous.
“I was taken to a private clinic with experienced staff. If you are from Abkhazia, you get the best service by default. And nobody asked me to accept Georgian citizenship. That is absurd. I’ve undergone a successful operation, and it does not mean that I have betrayed my motherland, she says.
Politics after politics are gone
Mikhail Saakashvili is considered the author of the project which provides medical aid to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, during his presidency the project used to serve political goals. Those who were eager to come to Georgia had to accept Georgian citizenship or at least receive a passport, as well as the insurance that goes with it. And that was not the end of the story.
A patient who came from Abkhazia or South Ossetia could easily be met by a TV crew at the hospital, which came to make a story about him.
To make a long story short, it used to be pure PR and politics.
Things have changed. To receive aid in Georgia or elsewhere is not a political but a personal choice. Nobody is pressed to accept citizenship, though Abkhazians are still being treated for free and in best clinics, without any PR background.
However, the political side of it is still here to stay.
Only ethnic Abkhazians are welcome
For instance, residents of the Gal district, mostly Georgian citizens, cannot receive free medical aid.
Also, judging by the information that I have, Abkhazian citizens of other ethnic identities are being treated in Georgia without much enthusiasm.
“Residents of Gal do not receive treatment because they are Georgian and have Georgian citizenship. Only some consultations are available for a discount! Transportation from Gal to Tbilisi costs $60 and then one has to pay for numerous treatments, a Gal resident told me as long as they were promised to be kept anonymous.
As a result, many from Gal, who have Abkhazian documents, go for medical treatment in the opposite direction, to Sukhum.
The reality: More possibilities for Abkhazians in Georgia
The construction of a modern general clinic for 220 patients in the village of Rukhi (the Zugdidi district) near the Abkhazian border was started in 2016. Medical personnel who will be working there are now being trained in Europe, Russia and Israel.
A 3-star hotel will be constructed in the vicinity. According to the Georgian media, the project will cost around $20 million. 600 people will be employed for the project.
In Soviet times, Rukhi used to host the Georgian-Abkhazian Friendship Festival. Now the clinic will serve as the symbol of friendship.
Life or principles
The Abkhazian state reacted to the situation by created stricter rules for crossing the Georgian border. The effect seems dubious.
First, Abkhazian medics themselves turn to their Georgian colleagues in critical situations. On some occasions ambulances from Zugdidi have come to Sukhum to pick up patients.
Second, to get to Poti or Batumi in Georgia is easy from Sochi by sea.
“Several years ago I nearly lost my newborn child because of a mistake made by doctors in Sukhum. He was taken by ambulance to Tbilisi, where Georgian doctors saved his life. Otherwise my child would have died, another Sukhum resident told me on condition of anonymity.
She claims the incident caused an uproar in Abkhazia. “In fact, what some people said was that political interests matter more than our children`s lives. But I decided that next time I would give birth in Georgia. Last winter my wonderful girl was born there.
It is obvious that healthcare in Abkhazia is not going to reach an affordable level anytime soon.
“The problem is that in some cases a new clinic needs to be built to treat a particular patient, surgeon Ruslan Smyr states.
“We do not have an X-ray machine to diagnose leucosis, to say nothing of the equipment and personnel necessary to treat the condition. I recall a patient who needed an operation on his gall bladder, which we could not perform, and had to transport him to Russia.
The problem can be partly solved if Russia and Abkhazia were to reach an agreement on certain formalities, ensuring medical aid legal for patients from Abkazia. But even then, receiving aid in Georgia would be a better option.
The number of people who receive critical aid in Georgia is growing. They and their families join the ranks of those who tend to view Georgia with loyalty. It may be a positive trend for Abkhazians treated in Georgia, lookd at as a neighboring country they need to form normal relations with.
However, the plan of Tbilisi to make Abkhazia a part of “the Georgian world makes the situation unpredictable in the long-term perspective.
What to do: 1) Ban 2) Despise 3) Develop
“I will never be able to understand those who go to Georgia for treatment. I consider them traitors. They have been killing our brothers, and now we go there for medical treatment. It is better to borrow money from someone and go elsewhere, Tengiz Kiut, a resident of Abkhazia, says.
This is a popular point of view, to ban the practice and despise those who opt for life instead of standing firm for principles. But if Abkhazia is already a full-fledged state with strong political and philosophical values, then looking down on people who go to Georgia for treatment is a demonstration of the deep-rooted mentality from the past.
We live in the times of many choices. People are free to choose better healthcare, employment, food etc., as elsewhere in the world. Our wants to make itself attractive for the Abkhazian citizens. The Georgian economy is unable to create jobs or better living conditions for Abkhazians. But it does what it can to raise their quality of life.
People going there for medical treatment are not the problem. The ongoing collapse in Abkhazia is. The country is doomed to loose its human capital and this won’t in any way be connected to Georgia. Many people plan to move to Russia or elsewhere.
Either we opt for development, or we are going to keep struggling for our future.
The opinions expressed in the article convey the author’s terminology and views and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff