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“Last year, more than five million people underwent free medical examination. As far as I know, this is the only such example in the world, and it is done by us.”
– Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in a January 29 speech at a conference on results of a four-year program to improve socio-economic development in rural regions.
Two weeks later on February 12, more than 120 people crossed the border in one day to pay for treatment at the Todua Medical Center in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
Todua is not the only clinic that has a large number of Azerbaijan patients. New Hospitals chief executive Nika Okriashvili told an audience in December 2017 that in Ganja, “there is a bus station where taxi drivers wait. They are my employees. Every year they are bringing 8,000 patients from Azerbaijan to me.” (The minibus trip from Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan, is 170 kilometers from Tbilisi).
“The taxi drivers are professionals now. They even speak using medical terminology. On the way to the hospital, they collect complete patient information and send me a message on what kind of problem the patient has.”
“Azerbaijanis have a lot of money; they have built large hospitals. But they come to Tbilisi for treatment.”
“There are fully equipped modern hospitals in all our regions now, and I am glad that our citizens can take advantage of these opportunities to receive high-quality medical services.”
Fikrat Musayev works as a taxi driver for Todua Medical Center. His main task is to take Azerbaijani patients from Red Bridge (Azerbaijan-Georgian Border) to the clinic, and translate all medical documents from Georgian language into Azerbaijani.
Musayev says he is quite well-known in Azerbaijan. If someone wants to come to Georgia for treatment, they call him and then he meets them at the border and takes them to Todua.
“I am paid by patients (about $12-14) just to take them to the clinic,” he said. “I do not get anything extra for translation. In addition, the clinic pays me for doing my job.”
“Right now, more than 50 Azerbaijan patients are in our hospital. The majority come with Hepatitis C, because that treatment is free in Georgia. For other illnesses, Azerbaijanis pay the same as Georgians at Todua.”
According to the Azerbaijani Statistic Committee, 435 people were diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2014, the last year for which they supplied data. Other clinics in Georgia usually do charge foreign patients more.
Musayev says there are many cases where in Georgia, the diagnosis is very different from Azerbaijan.
“I have one patient from Azerbaijan. She was told that she had breast cancer and her breast should be taken. However, here we got a totally different diagnosis and she did not have that problem.”
“We are 15 taxi drivers in total who are doing this job on the border for different hospitals. We are in contact with each other all the time with each other and provide with all kind of information about doctors and treatment.”
According to Musayev, even more people came before the Azerbaijani manat lost 50 percent of its value in 2015. “Now people are coming not because the treatment is cheaper, but because of the quality.”
Rustam Mammadov is a driver-consultant who has worked for New Hospitals in Tbilisi since it opened in 2013. “We take patients from Red Bridge to the clinic, and help them with whatever they need. Sometimes I have 2-3 patients in a day, sometimes not. Before it was different. I had 6-7 patients a day.”
Mammadov says New Hospitals has four drivers based in Ganja. He says about half of the patients have eye problems. He agrees that many women come who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in Azerbaijan but receive a difference diagnosis in Georgia. According to 2014 Azerbaijan Ministry of Health statistics, 1,563 were diagnosed that year, and there were a total of 9,712 women living with that diagnosis.
According to Mammadov, he is paid by patients to take them to New Hospitals. The hospital also pays him for each patient he brings.