It is the end of February, 2014. I look into the notebook open on my table. On the monitor, there are photos and user pics of women from Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It is a webinar for our girls – street lawyers. Georgia on air: “Seven women are dying in the street. They know about methadone and want treatment, but there are no places for them. The girls are in despair and don’t know what to do. Should they try to get pregnant or jab themselves with an HIV-positive infected needle, just to get into the program?
My memory floats to the wet December of 2013. We are in Tbilisi, in the office of Eka Gardaphadze, who works for a peer help organization for women ‘AKESO’. Several rooms, crowds of busy people… I hear a baby’s rattle and turn around to look… our eyes met, she smiled, and a topic for discussion emerged of its own accord.
Tell us, please, how did you get into the substitution therapy program?
I was on drugs, then they disappeared from all pharmacies. They stopped selling them. I felt awful. I was seven months pregnant and didn’t know what to do. I learned about the program. When I first arrived, they didn’t want to take me because there was no precedent. No pregnant woman was taken into the program before.
What were the doctors were afraid of?
They were frightened that if they allow me to participate in the program, something dangerous could happen with me or with my baby. I felt awful at first, really awful. I couldn’t talk and my legs swelled drastically. They were frightened; they didn’t want to shoulder this responsibility. When at last they took me, I wish you could see it! They started with the smallest dosage, and it took three days to select proper dosage. On Monday it was 10 mg, on Tuesday 15 mg, and then 25 mg. That was enough for me.
How did you learn about the methadone program?
I knew about it for a long time. At first, I thought I’d have to pay $300 for the methadone. When I found out it was free, I was astonished. I had a real battle with the doctors, you cannot imagine it! Pregnant, swelled legs, on withdrawals… and they wouldn’t allow me to participate in the program. It was a nightmare!
In other words, the doctor said: ‘Get out of here and go on mainlining!’
Yes. “Just go and do what you list!” he said. I couldn’t do anything! I had no money at all, nothing. They refused me the first day. The following day, Eka called me and said: “Come tomorrow”. I told her I wouldn’t go, that I’d be better to file a lawsuit and let the judges decide. But then, Eka picked me up and we went there…
Iya was lucky. She was provided with necessary treatment, and now she’s deeply absorbed in thoughts about her baby, about diapers and infant food. I hope, in due course, anyone who needs treatment will be able to get it. It will take time. Today one more woman biting her lip and fighting back tears of pain and despair leaves the doctor’s office with nowhere to go…