Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Kyrgyz Medical System

As I wrote last week, I was punched in Jalalabat and injured my mouth. While my upper lip has healed up fairly nicely, my bottom lip is still very painful and it is hard for me to eat or smile.

Since we are soon heading to even poorer Tajikistan Lara and I decided we'd better get my lip checked to see if there was anything seriously wrong. In Tajikistan the biggest town we are visiting in the next 3 weeks has 4000 people and no electricity. I'm pretty confident the medical infrastructure will match the electrical grid.

We started by phoning our insurance company since we are responsible people and have got medical insurance. Our concern was that if I needed any sort of delicate oral surgery I probably wouldn't want it done in Osh. While Osh has 300,000 people and 3 universities, it is also a city that turns of the electricity every day from midnight to 7:00AM and lacks traffic lights at some amazingly big intersections. We figured our insurance company might be able to point us to some decent medical resources or maybe give us a doctor to talk to.

We went to an internet cafe to look up our insurance information and Lara called the insurance company on her cell phone. After some time on hold a friendly man talked to Lara (I'm not talking much with my mangled mouth). Unfortunately he had never even heard of Kyrgyzstan, and we realized we were pretty much on our own. Luckily while Lara was talking to the insurance company I had been looking up mouth injuries on the Internet and I was becoming more confident that my wound was something that would heal nicely given some time.

Since the insurance company was no help we looked in the Lonely Planet and found a medical clinic a few blocks from where were. The building was falling apart but there was a small booth in the lobby with a couple of nurses in it. We acted out the punch in the face thing and one of the nurses led us around the side to a doctor's office. There were two doctors in the office both of whom spoke a few words of English. They were mainly interested in how I had hurt my lip and we acted out the scene again. Our acting must have been bad because they thought that Lara had gotten drunk and punched me. We spent a minute clearing that up. Then the doctor took a quick look at my lip and wrote me a perscription on the back of a torn off computer printout.

There was no charge to see the doctors and our total waiting time was probably 30 seconds. By contrast when I had a bleeding wound in Calgary I spent 6 hours waiting in the medical clinic before somebody looked at me. My family doctor in Calgary is booking physicals for 2010.

Perscriptions in hand we set off to find our medicines. Pharmacies are everywhere here but most of them only sell condoms and aspirin. It took three tries to find the antibiotics but the $0.30 bill was more than reasonable. Three more pharmacies were needed before we found the mouth rinse, which came in a neat glass medical jar and cost another $0.50.

The standard of medical care in Kyrgyzstan is basic at best. This is not a country where you want to have anything serious go wrong with you. Yet for minor ailments I don't think you can beat a 30 second wait and a $0.80 bill for medicine.

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