Vaccinating a Baby in Bishkek

NOTE: If you are from a country where it is relatively (or even “mediumly”) easy to obtain vaccinations, then do so (but not before checking the expiration dates!).  Bring them to Bishkek in a refrigerated container, and have them administered at Eldik Clinic.

Not wanting to fly back every two months just to get shots, while still in Turkey we inquired after obtaining vaccinations.  Not very possible, it seemed.  So I turned to the Bishkek expat community on facebook and tried to figure out what everyone else had done.

It seemed many people went to Edelweiss Clinic (on Majistral,between the Vestel store and BTA bank just East of Globus) to get shots.  But, alas, the number everyone had was wrong.  So I called up the US Embassy and got every number they had.  No one answered the phone at any of the private clinics but a place called Kroxa, on Ibraimova/Toktogol.  So we made an appointment and went over on Monday.  Without a translator.  Big mistake, as my Russian medical vocabulary barely covers dentist visits and not a single person there spoke more than five words of English.  But we got my husband’s secretary on the phone and figure out that:

  • We could not get shots until we got a local vaccination booklet and a checkup with their doctor (despite my having made an appointment with another doctor for Tuesday)
  • The BCG (Tuberculosis) shot is given at birth in Kyrgyzstan (but at 2 months in Turkey and not at all in the US)
  • We could not get any of the other hots until we got the BCG
  • Before we got the BCG we needed a checkup and a skin test, and then to wait 3 days
  • Only the tuberculosis hospital and government institutions give the BCG shot (and I was not about to bring my unvaccinated baby to a tuberculosis hospital…)

So we left.  It turned out they were wrong on many of the points.

One woman had recommended the aforementioned Eldik Clinic as a good place to get checkups, though they are unable to provide vaccinations. I had made an appointment there for the following day anyway, so waited to get an opinion from an American doctor (Dr. Linda Jones) more familiar with dealing with foreigners trying to take care of their kids in Kyrgyzstan. It was good that I did.  For she talked to the local doctors at the clinic and they called someone who called someone and then someone else wrote an official letter saying my baby had been checked and was healthy and someone else stamped that and I was told to go the next morning to the 2nd Maternity Hospital on Moscovskaya at 8:50 to get the BCG.  For babies could get the BCG without a preliminary skin test up until 2 months.  And while my daughter was exactly  two months on Tuesday, they would ignore this.  For some reason the receptionists and doctors at Kroha had not known about the two month rule.

The next morning I headed out the door at 8:15, picked up a Turkish-speaking local colleague of a colleague of my husband (for I am now competent in handling maternal/pediatrical situations after all my months in Ankara) and found a parking spot across the street from the second maternity house, one of those wooded and sprawling soviet complexes with a labyrinth of buildings covered in cracked paint and smelling faintly of damp. We asked around..and around until we found the right ward, were ushered in before the day’s official opening at 9, waited in a baby care room along with a plump and proud new mother of a ten-day old swaddled in no less than two layers and two blankets, one fluffy white and gold-trimmed. A nurse came in and made us pay 20 som for plastic shoe covers, and then another woman came in and went out a few times before bringing in a nurse and the vaccination.  They filled in the card – with Tuesday’s date, administered the shot, and told me to pay “whatever I wanted to pay” (with the cash obviously going direct to their pockets).  Shots at Korha would have been 200; I paid 500.  I’m sure either would have been fine, though I’d like them to continue “doing favors” for the doctor at Eldik, as I’m sure one or two other foreigners will face the same conundrum.

While I was there the doctor scolded the other new mother for wearing platform shoes (on Bishkek sidewalks this is a dangerous activity any day) and me for using cloth diapers.  Pampers would be better  she said. These are terrible for her skin.  Do you change them everyday? Do you wash them? Because you need to change and wash them. First of all, yes.  I ordered about 2 dozen cloth (microfiber) diapers and run them all through the wash about once every two days. I also use flushable organic bamboo diaper liners (makes using cloth diapers super easy), which are super soft against her skin – especially considering that, though more expensive than they are in Turkey, the Pampers here are actually of inferior quality.  I still had some Pamper’s premium left over in my diaper bag, bought a bag here, and realized that they are completely not the same. The ones from Turkey actually do “feel like cotton” and have ultra breathable material.  The ones bought here feel like plastic and can cause her to sweat. Cloth diapers you only buy once – and then don’t have to worry about different production standards for different markets.  But Pampers are, of course, more modern and more expensive, and thus assumed to be better. Alas…

After dropping off my most-helpful local assistant (“No problem!” she said, “I’d be glad to help any time.  As you can see, navigating our health system can be confusing even for me”) I drove up and down Sukhe Baatar off Majistral until I eventually located Edelweiss Clinic (name in Cyrillic only, green entrance with the giant white flowers squeezed between the Vestel Shop and BTA Bank facing Majistral and just across from Jannat Hotel/just east of Globus and the GazProm) and went up to see if I could get the rest of her vaccinations, or at least make an appointment.

I kind of succeeded.  For it seems that the BCG is a live vaccination, and no other vaccinations can be given for one month after the BCG is administered.  Never mind that they’re given on the same day in Turkey (though, to note, nurses in Turkey were adamant that they could not given any of the 2 month vaccinations at 6 weeks and, again, while a 2 month vaccination there, the BCG is given at birth here).  Unfortunately, there is simply no rota virus vaccination in Kyrgyzstan; still not sure what we’re going to do about that one…So we made an appointment to get the two remaining vaccinations that are available in Kyrgyzstan for September 19 with a quietspoken doctor who found my daughter adorable.   No one there spoke English, but they were also accustomed to dealing with foreigners (they’re the chosen vaccination clinic for ESCA) and pretty patient with my Russian.  The clinic is also clean and appears to be both professional and functional.

So, my takeaway advice for parents who cannot buy/do their children’s vaccinations abroad:

If your child is under 2 months of age, go to Eldik Clinic, get an examination (and a stamped paper stating that the baby is of good health and cleared for the BCG vaccination), and get an appointment for the BCG as soon as you can.  Then call Edelweiss (0312 468-111 or 460-111) and make an appointment for the 2 month vaccinations for one month after.

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