This article originally appeared on OC Media. It is reproduced here with permission and edited in accordance with the Global Voices editorial style.
Georgia's borders have been closed since March 18 due to COVID-19, with few exceptions. Surveys suggest that the average family income may have been cut by almost half, and that those who depended directly on the tourism industry now face the dilemma of having to choose between saving money at the cost of their health or going into debt to pay for necessary medication .
The fall in tourism brought many changes in the life of 59-year-old Keti. The hostel where he worked cleaning closed, and the owner, who is a foreigner, left the country and has no plans to reopen this year.
Keti's salary was 20 lari ($ 6.50) a day, working six days a week. Now unemployed, Keti's family lost half of their income.
“My husband is retired and receives a pension (220 laris, or 71 dollars per month), and my daughter works to the maximum of her physical capacity three or four days (per week) in a supermarket; therefore, he does not earn more than 300 lari per month (just over $ 107) ”.
Keti's daughter Sopio cannot sit or stand for long due to knee surgery for two years and requires very expensive treatment. The doctor told her there was no point in having surgery if she couldn't get the injections in her knee.
Keti searched for several days for Arthrum, a gelatinous substance similar to that which occurs naturally in the joints. He couldn't find it and went to the doctor, who told him that Georgia pharmacies do not sell it and that he should look for it at an athlete-specific pharmacy, the only distributor.
A single injection of Arthrum costs 800 laris, 80% of your family income. However, Keti bought it because she wanted her daughter to be able to move.
Now, two years later, Sopio's other knee began to ache from the increased pressure it receives, and he needs the injections in that knee as well. “The doctor recommended that we look for someone, anyone, from outside who could bring her to us.”
At first, Keti tried to order the injection. However, with insurance and shipping, it would cost the same as in Georgia.
Finally, Sopio contacted a friend from Italy, who in turn found an immigrant who was buying the same injection from her doctor for one hundred euros (USD 120).
They bought two injections in December 2019, at an exchange rate that cost Keti 310 laris (one hundred dollars) per injection. Now I'd buy it for 343 lari (about $ 111), and for Keti, every penny counts.
“It was still too much money for us, but I knew that at least that way I could save for the injection procedure and travel (to the hospital and back). After buying one injection, I started saving for the next one ”.
“The grown-ups are not wanted anywhere”
OC Media consulted orthopedic surgeon Giorgi Kvaratskhelia at the First University Clinic in Tbilisi. It confirms that Arthrum, which is prescribed for both preventive and post-surgical purposes, is a high-cost treatment for the joints, that it is imported and very expensive.
Sopio needs to inject Arthrum for at least five years. And in addition, it has Gluvilex Ultra indicated, a supplement for the joints. “The provision for a fortnight costs 53 lari (just over 17 dollars): per month they are more than 200 lari (almost 65 dollars). I have no idea where to get the money now, but I prefer to eat less bread and buy the necessary medication ”.
Sopio frequently suffers from other knee-related health problems, such as ankle ligament inflammation towards the end of 2019. Keti's husband also has problems with his hip joints. In total, according to Keti's calculations, her and her husband's pressure regulators and Sopio's medications cost about 170 laris ($ 55) a month.
With the pandemic crisis, Keti lost hope of finding another job.
“The elderly are not wanted anywhere. I am a year away from getting my retirement, but for me, this one year is too long. I could work in bars and hostels, but these are not jobs available at the moment ”.
Keti submitted an application to the Government benefits program for the COVID-19 crisis, but was not granted it.
He had no contract and was paid in cash. Maybe that's why I didn't receive it. “
“There will be no tourist reactivation until March”
Ana Teimurazishvili, an independent tourist guide and member of the Georgia Association of Tourist Guides, also lost her source of income due to the closing of the borders. Since then, she has struggled to pay for her elderly mother's medication.
“I had to pawn my jewelry to buy it. The Association helped me with 150 laris ($ 49) when I had no money for medication, then I took the jewelry to the pawnshop, then I asked my friends for help, so I am very in debt now. But at least I have something to do. My colleagues lost all their income ”.
Ana's relative rented a small food and beverage kiosk near Tortuga Lake in Tbilisi, where she now works from noon to 1 am. It's been open for less than a month, so they're still not sure how much income it will give them.
“Right now, the only thing I'm aiming at is paying the rent and being able to take care of my mother without going into even more debt.”
Ana's mother was prescribed the blood thinner Eliquis, which must be applied every month. It is vital for her as she is at high risk of thrombosis.
Ana got it from abroad because the dose for a month and a half came out less anywhere than the dose for a month in Georgia. She was not aware that the country had an aid program to access the Eliquis until a friend notified her. Yet even with government subsidies, he can hardly afford it. “Two months ago, the price was 72 laris (about $ 23), and now it is 78 (just over $ 25),” he says.
Nino Khunashvili, Chief of Cardiology at First University Clinic, explains that Eliquis is a powerful and effective anticoagulant highly prescribed in Georgia. “It is a very expensive drug, all the drugs in that family are expensive,” he explained to OC Media.
OC Media He consulted for the Eliquis at various pharmacies in Georgia. The drug is ordered by prescription and shipped from Turkey in three weeks, as it is not available in Georgia.
In total, Ana's mother's medication costs about 400 laris a month (nearly $ 130); his pension only covers half.
Ana does not believe that she will be able to practice her profession again in the short term. Most of the international tourists were Russian or spoke Russian, she explains, and even if they opened the borders, she would still feel unsafe.
“There will be no tourist reactivation until March, and until then, those of us who are over 50 years old will have nothing. Nobody hires my generation ”.
When Ana requested emergency help, there was no category for tour guides.
“The government sees nothing of the tourism industry other than hotels and tour operators,” he says. “And there is no point declaring yourself a 'green zone' to travel. This crisis is not just about Georgia. Armenia and Azerbaijan are in a worse situation. People don't come here just for Georgia. “