Georgia: ICRC mobile clinic helps villagers with chronic diseases
For people cut off from health services in remote villages affected by the conflict in Georgia and South Ossetia, the mobile clinic run by the Norwegian Red Cross and ICRC is a lifeline in more ways than one.
Accompanying the four Norwegian Red Cross medics on their field visits are doctors and nurses from the Ministry of Health in Gori. Their nervousness about travelling into areas that were at the centre of the fighting, and are still unsafe, has been allayed by going along with the Red Cross team.
" Just as important as the medical consultations we can provide is the fact that people know they have not been forgotten, " says team leader Dr Richard Munz.
" We are the door openers, if you like, " explains Dr Munz. " We are able to facilitate access for local doctors who would find it difficult to get out to remote areas on their own. They are under the protection of the Red Cross when they come with us. "
When they arrive in a village, the team sets up the clinic in a sheltered spot, either on the side of a building or under the trees. In one village recently, a vine trellis provided shade.
" Before the conflict began, the health services were functioning well at the village level, " says Dr Munz. " The churches also played an important supporting role. Chronic health problems were under control, but now they are not. What we are doing is to try to get that network back in place. "
Red Cross teams up with local health authorities to treat and reassure the weary
It is the local doctors who do the consultations. " It would make no sense for us to do them ourselves, " remarks Dr Munz. " Our role is to provide support. "
The ICRC also supplies the medicines for the clinic through the local health authorities in Gori.
It was mostly elderly people who remained behind when others fled at the start of the war. Cut off from the health services in Gori or Tskhinvali, and unable to find medicines locally, people with chronic health problems are increasingly at risk.
Added to this, the stress of living through the war and its aftermath has taken a huge toll on their nerves. Most of the patients coming to the mobile clinic are suffering from hypertension.
The doctors are beginning to see stomach problems as well. In villages where the electricity has been cut off, water pumps are not working and taps are dry. People are having to drink well water which is not always clean.
From the very first day, when the team saw over 70 patients and dealt with a sudden emergency, it was evident that their services were greatly needed. For the doctors, it is a chance to help in a way that would have been impossible had they been on their own. " We are glad to be here. Everything is fine, " says Dr Nanula Koshoridze, as she hands out medicines. " We are very busy. "
" Since the mobile clinic started its rounds on 28 August, a second one has been added. To date the two teams of doctors have given well over 600 consultations in 18 villages. On one day alone last week, they saw 252 patients. "
For the elderly villagers, just the fact that they can share their concerns and fears with people who have time to listen means a lot. " When I saw you coming it was better than any medicine, " commented one old lady.
Now that the service has been set up, the team plans to return regularly to each village. " People are depending on us, and we must keep our promises to them until the medical services are up and running again locally, " remarks Dr Munz, while helping to bandage the foot of an elderly woman who had been trampled by her cow.