Diabetes in Kyrgyzstan: Airport Security Issues

Posted by sean on Tue, 04/23/2013 - 17:07 in

This winter Sean and Mollie Busby took a trip to Kyrgyzstan to ski, snowboard and reach out to the locals – providing snowboard supplies, medical kits and other tools to villagers and local guides. Come along for the journey as Sean shares their experiences.


Check out this video to learn more about why Sean decided to visit Kyrgyzstan and his early impressions of the country.

A lot of people ask me, “Why Kyrgyzstan?” My answer is simple: “Why not?” I was doing some research and discovered that Kyrgyzstan (pronounced KER-GIS-STAN) is an incredibly mountainous country with a developing infrastructure. Local villages are starting to rely on winter tourism to sustain their families through the otherwise uneventful winter. Me, operating as I usually do for these things, took this opportunity to travel to a unique place to snowboard, while also winding up in a community where we could give back to the local villagers.

My wife Mollie and I brought over backpacks, snowboards, snowboard bindings, solar panel charging devices, medical kits and other useful tools for some Kyrgyzstan guides in Arslanbob, where they are developing winter tourism. And although it was an incredible, unforgettable adventure in so many positive ways, this was the first place I encountered resistance at airport security about carrying my diabetes supplies.

As we were going through security at the very end of the trip in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the attendant stopped me and asked to go through my bag. Being extra prepared, I had all my diabetes supplies with me—including extra Pods, insulin, syringes, other medications, Glucagon and more. The man looked at all the stuff, looked at me and asked for a doctor’s note. I pointed to the prescription labels on all the supplies and he shook his head, no good. I needed a doctor’s note (despite the fact it would have been in English and he spoke Kyrgyz and Russian).

After arguing with him for 15 minutes saying I had diabetes and relied on these things to survive, he insisted that I “didn’t need” all those medical supplies and I couldn’t carry all of them with me without a doctor’s note (though I had a letter in my e-mail of a scanned script from the doctor too). I had to check my supplies with my checked baggage and only carried a small amount with me on the plane. Luckily, we had stashed a bunch of extra supplies in Mollie’s bag just in case. I was fine—with no issues the entire way home —and yet that experience was traumatic.

This experience taught me a lot about not taking our airport security in the U.S. for granted. In many places, a prescription speaks volumes about the fact that you’re OK to be traveling with medical supplies. But for that man in Kyrgyzstan, all he needed was a scribbled doctor’s note in a foreign language. A good reminder for everyone to never assume what will work in a given country—always cover all your bases! (I know I will.)

Come back to read more about Sean’s adventures in Kyrgyzstan.