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Working to Broaden Access to Healthcare: Letter to the Editor from Oxfam

A billboard in Tbilisi not too long ago featured the shy, innocent face of a boy named Giorgi. The words ‘I have a right to live’ were printed across the frame. A famous Georgian journalist was shown tenderly holding Giorgi’s hand, urging the country to act. Thirteen-year-old Giorgi had just a few critical months to find a bone marrow donor to save his life.

The Giorgi billboard was part of a campaign run by leading Georgian journalists, and supported by Oxfam, an international organization campaigning to improve healthcare for the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Georgia. The recent campaign, titled 'I have a right to live,' utilized a mass media strategy to raise awareness and funding for treatment of childhood leukemia. At its core, it called on the Georgian government to invest in the healthcare sector. Such investment would save lives, in particular those of children stricken with leukemia.

Tragically, Giorgi lost his race against time; he succumbed to leukemia in early November. As Giorgi’s mother, Jakhia, tells it, a lack of resources deprived Giorgi of one last chance at life. “We have no money,” Jakhia explained. “We only receive 125 lari (roughly USD $77) per month from the state, which is barely enough to feed my family.”

Although the Georgian government provides chemotherapy and medicines to children battling leukemia, there are currently no facilities in the country that can handle bone-marrow transplants, and no database to assist in finding donor matches. A transplant costs around 100,000 euros–a sum far beyond the means of most Georgians.

Oxfam has established a coalition, called ‘Future Without Poverty’, which brings together civil society organizations from across Georgia with the aim of ensuring all citizens have ready access to healthcare. Giorgi’s experiences unfortunately continue to serve as a cautionary tale for hundreds of people across Georgia who are struggling to find affordable care. The health system in Georgia all too often forces families into impossible situations, considering drastic measures to save the lives of their children.

The new Government’s pledge for universal free healthcare for Georgia’s population, and a promise to establish a transplant center for children battling leukemia offers hope. Oxfam is working to raise awareness among young people about their health options and provide them with a say in the future health care system. Oxfam’s current project ‘My Rights, My Voice’ is helping 20,000 marginalized children and young people from post-conflict regions to protect their health rights, and demand access to services. As part of the project, Oxfam established 30 youth clubs where young people can come together to discuss their health rights, and bring these issues to the attention of decision makers.

For young Madea, who is taking part in the project, it gives her a chance to have a voice. “Healthcare is the most important thing, especially for children, as they are the future of the country,” Madea said.

Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International. http://www.oxfam.org/

Working to Broaden Access to Healthcare: Letter to the Editor from Oxfam

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