UNION — When he returns to his hometown of Tarancuta, Moldova, Dr. Sergei Ivantchev will be bringing with him his wife, their two daughters, a nurse, and medical supplies, part of which was donated by the Union Medical Center.
The Republic of Moldova is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered in the west by Romania and in the north, east, and south by Ukraine. For much of the 20th century Moldova was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics before gaining independence in 1991. Since then, Moldova has had to deal with a number of problems including a Russophone secessionist movement which it clashed with militarily in the early 1990s and which retains de facto control of a small part of the country; periods of political instability and civil unrest; rampant corruption including a scandal involving the theft by fraud of funds equivalent to $1 billion US dollars; and economic decline which has left it the poorest country in Europe.
Another aspect of Molova’s post-Soviet history has been the emigration of thousands of Moldovans looking for work in other countries. Though they have left their homeland, those Moldovan emigrants have not forgotten their native land, sending back remittances from the money they earned abroad. The remittances sent back by Moldovans living and working abroad currently amount to 38 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of Moldova, the second-highest percentage in the world after Tajikistan (45 percent).
Among the Moldovans to emigrate is Dr. Sergei Ivantchev who left Moldova to come to the United States in 1992. Now an ER (Emergency Room) doctor at Union Medical Center, Ivantchev had been a doctor in Moldova but when he arrived in America he could not practice medicine. Instead, he went back to school, to study to be a nurse.
“I came to America 24 years ago in 1992,” Ivantchev said. “I had been a physician in Moldova but I could not practice medicine here without first taking the medical exams and doing my residency here.”
Ivantchev explained that except for those trained in Canada, all foreign physicians no matter how many years they’ve been practicing overseas are required to take medical exams and do a residency in America before they are allowed to practice medicine in this country. He said this is because different countries have different standards and the requirement that they take medical exams and do their residency here is designed to ensure that physicians who immigrate to this country meet its standards.
Since he couldn’t resume practicing medicine as a licensed physician right off the bat, Ivantchev studied nursing and began working as a nurse. He then became a nurse-practitioner and worked as one for five years before deciding to undertake the process of becoming a licensed physician in America.
“I was already doing everything the doctors were doing so I decided to take my exams and do my residency,” Ivantchev said.
He did just that and in 2007 Ivantchev got his license to practice medicineand, since January of this year, has been an emergency room doctor at Union Medical Center.
At the end of this month, however, Ivantchev is planning to return to Molodova to try and help his country deal with the problems of its health care system.
While it is the poorest country in Europe, Ivantchev says that in many ways it is a modern society — industrialized and literate. In other ways, however, he says it is very much a Third World country in terms of endemic corruption and an impoverished health care sector.
“The United States spends 17 percent of its GDP on health care, in Moldova it is 4 percent,” Ivantchev said. “In America you spend $8,000 per capita on health care, in Moldova they spend $250 per capita.”
One the brighter spots of the Moldovan health care system is that there are 200 doctors for every 100,000 people, which Ivantchev describes as a “good number.”
The problem, however, is that these physicians often lack the basic supplies needed to effectively treat their patients, supplies that are often taken for granted in the United States. Dr. Ivantchev hopes to help address this lack supplies, at least in his hometown and a nearby hospital when he and his family travel to Moldova at the end of this month.
“I’ve bought $2,000 worth of steroid medication which when mixed with Lidocaine helps with inflammation of the joints,” Ivantchev said. “They will be for injections for people who have osteoarthritis. It will get rid of their pain and improve their mobility for three, four months or more.”
Ivantchev said that one of the main reasons he is doing this is that in Moldova people have very limited access to hip and knee replacements. He said that there is only one hospital, located in the nation’s capital, that does those replacements and that it is his understanding that there is a three-four year waiting list.
Ivantchev has also purchased other medications including blood pressure and diabetic medication to take to Moldova.
In addition to the medical supplies he’s purchased, Ivantchev will also be taking with him supplies donated by the Union Medical Center. Ivantchev said he originally asked the center for things like surgical gloves, alcohol swabs, and syringes, things that are common in medical centers, hospitals, and physicians offices here but are often in short supply in Moldova. He got those things and much more.
Ivantchev said that when he made his request he was told there was a great deal of surplus medical supplies left over from when Union Medical Center was Wallace Thomson Hospital. He said it was from that surplus that he received boxes full of the following items that he will be taking with him to Moldova:
• Spinal needle trays
• Epidural anesthesia trays
• Spinal trays
• Tracheal tubes
• Antibacterial hand soap
• Surgical masks
• Surgical gloves
• Laryngeal (LMA) masks
While he will be going to his hometown of Tarancuta to treat persons suffering from osteoarthritis with steroid injections, Ivantchev said he will take many of the other supplies to nearby Cantemir Hospital which is about 20 miles from his hometown.
When he goes to Moldova, Ivantchev will not be alone as his wife, Lucia; their daughter, Victoria, a first year medical student; their other daughter, Nicole, a sophomore journalism major; and a nurse, Judy Allbright, will be accompanying him. He said that Victoria and the nurse will be assisting him while Nicole will be chronicling their activities.
At the same time this is going on, Ivantchev said that his wife, a teacher and cosmetologist, will be running a summer camp in Tarancuta for 100 children during their stay. He said at the end of the summer camp each child will receive a backpack containing school supplies.
In discussing his reasons for undertaking this mission to his homeland, Ivantchev cited his Christian background which he said teaches him to help those in need. He said the people of his homeland are very much in need and that he wants to do as much as he can to help them.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.