Staunton, February 14 – Except for some limited efforts to reduce highway fatalities, the Russian government has done almost nothing to reduce the number of premature deaths from accidents from other causes, even though they have resulted in almost as many deaths as the losses from cancer, according to a new study.
Prepared by the Higher School of Economics, the monograph, Mortality from External Causes in Russia (in Russian) presents an analysis of such losses in Russia since the middle of the 20th century. It is summarized today by Ala Gorbacheva in Nezavisimaya gazeta (ng.ru/health/2018-02-14/8_7172_pik.html).
The book’s findings provide both context for and a challenge to recent claims by the Russian government that there was a 3.1 percent decline in mortality rates over the first 11 months of 2017 and that as a result life expectancy had risen. “But,” as the book points out, “it rose after a sharp fall and now has reached the level where it was at the end of the 1980s.”
A particular role in determining life expectancy is played by mortality from causes other than illness, both intentional such as murders and suicides and unintentional such as accidents. “These are preventable deaths,” but between 1956 and 2014, these numbered in Russia some 12.3 million people, or “more than 13 percent of all deaths.”
Until the mid-1980s, Gorbacheva says, “the number of deaths from external causes rose in stable fashion. Then it fell during the period of the anti-alcohol campaign and perestroika after which it resumed its growth, reaching a historical maximum in 1994.” It went up again in 1998 to a new peak in 2003, after which it continued to fall “with small variations.”
The Russian authorities are very proud of where it is now – roughly 105 deaths per 100,000 population, half what it was in 1990, but nonetheless one that is very high by international standards and simply has returned to the Russian level of 1986-1987, the journalist says.
“Worst of all,” Gorbacheva continues on the basis of the findings of the new book, “the peak of mortality [in Russia] from external causes comes among middle aged groups.” That sets the country apart from other state. In Europe, for example, people die from external causes mostly among the oldest age groups.
Over the period between 1990 and 2012, “6.5 million people died from external causes – almost as many as from tumors (6.8 million), and almost ten times more than from infectious diseases,” the journalist says. In principle, the former could have been saved and that would have had a major impact on Russian demography.
But the government has not addressed this plague except with regard to highway accidents, which are responsible for a miniscule 10 percent of these deaths. Were it to cut these other accidents even by half, the Russian population would grow and there would be more workers to support the elderly and children.
But for this to happen, two things would need to occur, Gorbacheva says. On the one hand, many government agencies besides the health ministry would have to get involved. And on the other, society would have to change its attitudes toward the value of human life, something that should be rated above everything else.