By Jonathan Hale, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia

Donald Steinberg, gives closing remarks at the Georgian Health Care 2020 Conference

USAID Deputy Administrator, Donald Steinberg, gives closing remarks at the Georgian Health Care 2020 Conference. He is accompanied by George Tsereteli, Vice Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, (far left) and Andrew Urushadze, Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia (left). Photo Credit. Patricia Adams/USAID.

Last week I attended the “Georgian Health Care 2020: MEDEA 2011” conference, organized by the Embassy of Georgia to the United States and the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs, with support of the First Lady of Georgia Sandra Roelofs. The two day conference brought together American and Georgian medical professionals to solicit ideas for the next ten years of health reform in Georgia.

I was impressed by Georgia’s commitment to reform and I believe Georgians have proven to be bold and creative thinkers. I hope this energy will carry the reform effort to success.

In closing remarks, USAID Deputy Administrator Steinberg highlighted that USAID has been working in the health sector in Georgia for 12 years and has worked in successful partnership with the Government of Georgia. USAID assisted Georgia to establish the Health Insurance Mediation Service, to construct or renovate 8 hospitals by providing a 50% loan guarantee to private banks, and to train hundreds of health professionals every year.

I learned more about the bold health reform initiative the Government of Georgia is undertaking which relies on market mechanisms to increase the population’s access to health care; improve the quality of care; and increase the efficiency of service provision. Since the Rose Revolution, the Government of Georgia’s health expenditures have increased more than five-fold from $48 million in 2003 to $250 million in 2009 and the Government of Georgia has extended health insurance to over 1.2 million beneficiaries.

Still, nearly 2/3 of the population remains without health insurance and more than 70% of total health expenditures are “out of pocket.” Additionally, there remain concerns about the quality of care and other issues. So there’s lots of work still to do.

Many of the participants were Georgian doctors practicing in the United States and they were asked to come back and provide short-term training and support.  They have learned valuable lessons and have experiences to share.  Diaspora groups, like these Georgian doctors, have an important role to play in improving customs in their home countries.  In the weeks ahead, we will be taking a close look at how we might be able to work together for the good of countries like Georgia.