Staunton, September 28 – That the ring road around Moscow marks a far deeper divide in Russia than the beltway around Washington, DC, does in the US has long been obvious. Now, new data show that it matters in a most immediate and intimate way: residents of the Russian capital currently live on average 5.8 years longer than do residents of the rest of the country.
Not surprisingly, Moscow officials are celebrating this trend as yet another success of the Putin era; but for the 90 percent of the population of the Russian Federation who do not live in the capital and who have seen the availability of medical care decline and their health worsen, these Moscow figures are an indictment of the government for what it is not doing to help them.
Unfortunately, because many Westerners evaluate Russia as a whole by what they see in the only Russian place they visit, these new Moscow figures are likely to be mistakenly extrapolated too freely. But despite this danger, one can only welcome any improvement in Russian health care -- even if it is restricted a single city.
In today’s “NG-Stolitsa,” Tatyana Popova writes that “objective indicators testify that medicine in the capital in recent years has achived significant successes in protecting the health of Muscovites,” with their average life expectancy having increased by 2.6 years over the last five (ng.ru/ng_stolitsa/2015-09-28/9_life.html).
In Moscow, she continues, there has been other good demographic news: since 2011, the city has had more births than deaths and mortality rates have fallen: from 10.9 to 9.7 per 1000 overall since 2010 and by “almost a third” among birth mothers and infants over the same five-year period.
There has been progress as well in reducing mortality from particular diseases Popova says. Deaths from tuberculosis have fallen from 5.6 per 100,000 in 2010 to 2.4 per 100,000 in 2014, and lethal outcomes from heart attacks have been cut from 30 percent five years ago to 10 percent according to current figures.
These improvements reflect better equipment in Moscow hospitals and efforts to get patients to necessary doctors more quickly and efficiently, she continues. And that is reflected in dramatic cuts in waiting times to see specialists or for procedures. Waiting times for seeing a gynecologist, Popova reports, have fallen by a factor of three, and the average wait for computer tomography from 60 days to 15.
What is most striking about such claims is that last fall, the Moscow city government announced that it was closing 15 hospitals in the city and firing 1263 doctors and 2990 nurses, a step some have said was taken to free up for sale the valuable real estate these facilities occupy (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/10/window-on-eurasia-russian-government.html).
And those cuts, part of Putin’s “optimization” program in the face of budgetary stringencies caused by his aggression in Ukraine, the resulting sanctions, and the decline in oil prices were part of a country-wide cut back in government support for the health care of the population.
Over the past year, Moscow reduced the number of hospital beds available to the Russian people and failed to live up to promises to boost pay for medical workers and thus is rapidly transforming Russia into what the Accounting Chamber calls “a land of Potemkin hospitals” (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/08/window-on-eurasia-under-putin-russia.html).