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Georgia - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Reform and privatisation of Georgia’s corrupt and run-down health service began in 1995; now a state medical insurance company and 12 health funds are funded by a payroll tax of 3% on employers and 1% on employees. The health service is still corrupt and run-down, but slowly improving as the economy recovers, though the share of GDP spent on health is still under 1%. Although British citizens are covered by a reciprocal agreement and need only proof of UK residence (ie: UK passport) for free treatment, they will still have to pay cash for drugs and many other services; as a rule US health insurance is not valid in Georgia without paying a substantial premium. Treatment is expensive (US$600 for a hernia operation), and even if you can pay for it there is a shortage of basic medical supplies, such as hypodermic needles, anaesthetics and antibiotics. Embassies have lists of good English-speaking doctors in Tbilisi.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Georgia is in general a safe country, with too few tourists for them to be targeted by thieves. Abkhazia, which has effectively seceded, is a little more problematic, and with no diplomatic representation you are very much on your own there if you get into trouble. The bordering area around Zugdidi is also considered to be risky. South Ossetia is not only a problem politically, but crime levels are higher than elsewhere here too, partly due to the wide availability of guns; the same used to apply to Svaneti, where unwary tourists were almost routinely robbed until a few years ago, but this is now as safe as anywhere in the country. Nevertheless it is still probably wiser not to go walking too far outside Mestia or Ushguli without a local guide. Tusheti and Khevsureti are also safe – they were closed to tourists due to the Chechen war but there’s no problem now.In Tbilisi, you should take the same common-sense precautions as anywhere else.
There’s little public drunkenness in Georgia, and there are usually plenty of people on the streets, even late at night; however, there have been vicious muggings of foreigners, usually in the dark entrances to apartment blocks. Otherwise, there is some pickpocketing, particularly in the metro, but few other problems. The days of Kalashnikov-toting Mkhedrioni (political gangsters) running the whole country as one big protection racket are long gone!