Healthcare Draws South Ossetians Back to Georgia
The leader of Russia-backed South Ossetia worries that Georgian doctors are undermining the breakaway entity’s health.
During a cabinet session of the de-facto South Ossetian government held March 2, Leonid Tibilov, the president of the self-proclaimed republic, expressed concern about the number of South Ossetian residents traveling to Georgia to seek medical treatment.
South Ossetia, along with the autonomous region of Abkhazia, broke free of Tbilisi’s rule in the early 1990s. In the aftermath of its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia recognized the independence of both entities, which remain heavily dependent on Kremlin subsidies.
Despite decades of political enmity, many South Ossetians prefer Georgian health services to what they can obtain at home, and they find Georgian healthcare to be cheaper than what can be found in Russia. Many are attracted by Georgia’s universal insurance program, which covers residents of the separatist regions. Official policy in Tbilisi holds that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still part of Georgia.
South Ossetian authorities permit residents to make trips across the breakaway lines only in cases of a healthcare emergency, but, as Tibilov observed a year ago, a growing number of South Ossetians are opting for regular treatment in Georgian clinics. Georgian officials said that the number reached 400 last year, reported Ekho Kavkaza news service. The fraternization makes South Ossetian leaders uncomfortable.
Although statistics cannot be independently verified, anecdotal evidence suggests that residents of Abkhazia also are capable of setting aside political differences to seek emergency medical treatment in Georgia. In 2012, the then-leader of Abkhazia, Alexander Ankvab, expressed grudging acceptance of Abkhaz residents’ desire to travel to Georgia for medical reasons.
Abkhaz and South Ossetians also arrive in Tbilisi for HIV/AIDS treatment, according to Georgian clinics. There have been claims that Abkhaz and Ossetians are required to take Georgian passports to gain access to national healthcare. Georgian officials deny these reports.