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FEATURE STORY

Georgia: Getting Money to Those who Need it Most

September 10, 2009

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thousands of the poorest Georgians are getting help to stay afloat and healthy
  • Government cash and health vouchers programs target the poorest part of the population
  • A fair and transparent system helps build public trust in civil agencies

September 10, 2009 — Grigol Beruchashvili and Medea Darchia spend most of their time at home in a little one room apartment with tiny kitchen and old, faded photos on the wall. Years ago this place used to be full of guests, family gatherings and hope for the future. They have lived through a tumultuous period, including civil war, the collapse of the Soviet Union , years of economic turmoil and the tragic death of their only son.

Now Grigol and Medea have no-one to take care of them. Their grandchildren live far from Tbilisi , and cannot travel to capital very often, and cannot afford to support their grandparents. For several years the old couple has been struggling to survive the stresses of everyday life and continuous ailments.

Salvation came through the government cash and health vouchers programs supported in part by the World Bank which target the poorest part of the population.


" The voucher prolonged my life. I'm alive today only thanks to this voucher. I underwent heart surgery several times and in different hospitals thanks to this voucher. And everywhere doctors and nurses treated me with special care, not mentioning four meals a day. I bless the people who gave us this chance! "

Grigol Beruchashvili

Pensioner in Georgia

As the doctor has prescribed, Grigol has to walk two kilometers a day. So, going to the nearest soup kitchen and picking up free meals for himself and his wife has become his daily duty.

Combined, the couple's monthly pension—he's a retired engineer, she taught Georgian literature— is less than a hundred dollars. The small amount of cash they receive from the state every month is used to cover the electricity and gas bills. “ Sometimes we buy meat once a week, as the soup kitchen does not offer meat dishes, ” said Medea.

In the country where close to a quarter of population is considered poor, many can apply for assistance, but not everyone gets it. That is why social workers visit homes individually to make sure they qualify for assistance. Having a fair and transparent system helps to build public trust in civil agencies that were once rife with corruption.

“We believe we are spending money right. Because in this particular case, what we do with the health—with the targeted social assistance and health vouchers that follow - is that the money follows the patient, ” said Alexander Kvitashvili, Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs in his most recent interview.

Times are tough in Georgia in the aftermath of last year's conflict and the global economic downturn. But thousands of the poorest Georgians are getting some help to stay afloat and healthy with government assistance as the country tries to regain its economic footing.


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