The Minister of Health of the de facto Republic of Abkhazia announced on 29 March plans to sign an agreement with the Russian Federation to provide Abkhazians who are citizens of Russia with medical insurance.
According to Abkhazian government-owned media outlet Apsnypress, the health minister, Andzor Goov, said that everything is ready to establish a new healthcare system, and they are awaiting final approval from the Russian Government. ‘The parties will be ready to sign the document in 10–14 days in Sukhum’, Apsnypress quoted Minister Goov.
Insurance policies will be issued to 189,000 Abkhazian citizens, excluding children under 14. Abkhazia’s population, according to the 2011 census conducted by the Abkhazian authorities, is roughly 240,000.
The Health Ministry will continue to allocate between ₽80 million and ₽90 million ($1.4 million to $1.6 million) for treatment outside Abkhazia for those without Russian citizenship.
The initiative is an alternative for Abkhazians to receiving medical treatment in Georgia. The health minister underlined his certainty that after signing the agreement, the number of Abkhazian citizens going to Georgia will be significantly reduced.
‘We will continue to cooperate with our Russian colleagues so that our medical care will rise to a new level, so that people come to us for treatment’, Apsnypress quoted Goov on 29 March.
Georgia provides medical treatment to Abkhazians free of charge. Many Abkhazians who come to Georgia for treatment prefer not to talk about it, as they think they might face difficulties at home.
According to Georgian online news outlet Netgazeti, official data shows that the number of patients who have come to Georgia from Abkhazia for medical treatment is increasing: In 2014, 450 ethnic Abkhazians went to Georgia for medical assistance, 550 in 2015, and the number exceeded 500 in the first 5 months of 2016.
The initiative comes soon after the EU abolished visas for Georgian citizens travelling to most EU countries. Following the decision, Abkhazia denounced Tbilisi’s offer to benefit from visa-free travel with Europe. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said that Abkhazians can easily take advantage of this if they obtain Georgian biometric passports. However, Abkhazian officials called Georgia’s offer ‘misleading’.