The American Friends of Georgia has been working for nearly a decade to help children and their families find treatment and solace during their battle against this devastating disease.
The Hematology-Oncology Center at the Children’s Republican Hospital in Tbilisi is the only treatment center for children with acute leukemia and lymphoma in Georgia. These children have recovery rates much lower than in the developed world, which is directly related to the economic conditions in Georgia and to the high cost of leukemia treatment.
Leukemia is still deadly in Georgia, largely because the state cannot provide the needed radiation therapy which more than a dozen children require every year. There are currently 30 children at the hospital receiving treatment. Annually, approximately 50-60 new cases are diagnosed.
The disease is very expensive to fight, and few families in Georgia can afford the medication and treatments necessary to fight the cancer. While a state medical program covers some costs, the families are responsible for expensive diagnostic tests, medicine and food. Since many families are traveling to Tbilisi from the regions outside of the capital, living costs are an extra burden.
AFG first learned of the dire situation for leukemia patients in Georgia in 2001. Executive Director Marusya Chavchavadze saw the unnecessary hardship for patients and their families during a visit with two parents — Manana Chubanidze and her husband Gocha Mikiashvili — who lost their daughter to the disease.
To combat their grief, Manana and Gocha decided to help other families suffering with the same situation. While the children with leukemia underwent treatment – sometimes up to 12 months – the parents had to sleep in their children’s hospital rooms. They were also expected to feed their children which was difficult because they had no access to a proper kitchen. Education and entertainment for the young patients was minimal. Many of the children missed a year of schooling. There was an acute shortage of medical equipment – infusion and perfusion pumps – to accurately administer chemotherapy to the children.
Manana and Gocha founded the International Assistance Fund for Children Suffering from Leukemia. They asked Marusya for help from AFG. Within three years, AFG fundraising was able to meet many of the needs of the children and families.
In 2004, AFG provided funds for teachers to come to the hospital to tutor the children in school subjects – a major step toward creating a sense of normalcy in their lives during the year-long treatment at the hospital. Prior to AFG’s assistance, children went without any schooling during their care in Tbilisi. The facility lacked a proper kitchen, and did not provide any education or entertainment for the young patients. AFG decided to help by providing funding for medical needs, including equipment, and financing art rehabilitation and education costs. Additional long term goals developed after Ms Chavchavadze’s trip included plans to build a more functional kitchen.