Saturday, September 3, 2016

Moscow Falsely Says Rising Death Rates Reflect Demography Not Cutbacks in Medical Services

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 3 – More Russians are dying from cancer, heart disease and tuberculosis, among other causes, but the Russian health ministry insists that this is the result of the aging of the population, an argument Vladimir Putin has made, rather than on shortcomings in the country’s medical system and the cutbacks in it the Kremlin leader has made.

            As a result, Natalya Chernova writes in “Novaya gazeta,” the ministry will no longer use deaths as a measure of the effectiveness of Russian medicine, a move that almost certainly will hide more completely the increasingly disastrous state of Russian medicine and Russian health under Putin (

            This change in official policy means that Russians are going to be told from here on out that they and not the health care system is responsible for any rise in deaths, although they can expect that Moscow will trumpet any change in the opposite direction for any reason as a triumph of its policies.

            What apparently triggered this policy change, the paper’s observer says, was the release of Rosstat statistics showing mortality from major illnesses had increased last year, when under Putin’s health “optimization” program the number of hospitals and doctors was sharply reduced and because of the sanctions regime many medicines became unavailable.

            Oleg Salagay, a representative of the health ministry insists that “mortality to a large degree is defined by demographic processes” rather than by the state of a country’s medical delivery system.  Given that Russia’s population is aging, he says, “old people as is well known die more frequently.”

            But other Russian government statistics undercut that argument at least in part, Chernova says. In 2014, Rosstat reported that Russians visited clinics eight million times fewer than the number that had done so the year before. In many cases, nearby clinics had been closed and they could not get to those farther away.

            Moreover, Russian medical services are costing more. Again, according to Russian government statistics, prices for medical services rose by 24 percent alone in 2015, even though the incomes of the population and hence the ability of Russians to pay for these services both declined.

            Experts at the Committee on Civic Initiatives say that the main cause of rising mortality in Russia is to be found in “the systemic mistakes of the leaders of the branch” as they have cut back on medical services for the population.  At present and officially, 17,500 population centers in Russia now do not have any medical services whatsoever. In fact, the situation is even worse.

            People can’t afford to travel 20 to 40 kilometers every time they need medical health. In today’s difficult economy, that is “an impermissible luxury,” Chernova says.  Where people have to or go without, they die, as in Kostromo oblast where the death rate went up 9.8 percent last year and in Karelia where it rose 8.7 percent.

            Not only are clinics being closed but doctors and nurses are being fired, with the number of medical workers declining by 90,000 in 2014 alone, and the number of hospital beds falling by 33,000 in that year, the last for which comprehensive statistics are available.  Russians are dying, and they are doing so because of the policy of their own government.

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