Staunton, April 4 – Life expectancy in Moscow is close to 80 years, about the same as in Estonia, while that in many other regions, it is still under 70 and thus closer to rates in African countries, a 16-yeargap that Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets now describes as “unbelievable.”
If one excludes Ingushetia, the life expectancy figures for which most demographers do not trust, Anatoly Vishnevsky, the director of the Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics, “the best situation” in this regard in Russia is found “in Moscow and partially in St. Petersburg (svpressa.ru/society/article/196675/).
The reasons for that are two-fold, he says. On the one hand, incomes in the two capitals are far higher than in other parts of the country. And on the other, medical care is not only better but more accessible. In many other parts of Russia, getting any care is difficult and getting top-flight care nearly impossible without long-distance travel.
Other countries have regional differences in life expectancy but few as dramatic as Russia, Vishnevsky says. “This reflects the weaker development of infrastructure, including medical facilities and the fact that rural population points are often cut off from the center with regard to medical help.”
This pattern is largely the result of funding: Russia spends less on healthcare than do other advanced countries, and what money the government does spend is far from equally distributed. “The major cities in the European portion” of the country get most of what little there is, the demographer continues.
As a result, Russia lags far behind Europe. “Moscow is somewhere on the level of Estonia, which also is far from the best, but all the remaining Russian regions are in a still worse position … This lag arose in Soviet times, but it has not been overcome,” even as the West has been racing ahead.
Irina Denisova, a senior scholar at the Moscow Center for Economic and Financial Research and Prediction, says that the underfunding of health care is serious but not the only factor which plays a role in the relatively low levels of life expectancy among Russians at present.
Other factors include “’risky behaviors’” like smoking and drinking. Indeed, statistics show that 40 percent of the premature deaths of working age Russian males involve alcohol. Russians also suffer disproportionately high numbers of deaths from murders, suicides, and accidents at work and on the road.
Environmental factors also play a role. In regions where the air and water are heavily polluted, that too pushes down life expectancy rates, Denisova says. Obviously vastly more money needs to be spent on healthcare than Russia is now doing, but the government must also address these broader issues as well as safety as the Kemerovo disaster highlighted.
The scholar also points to a measure few Russians like to talk about: “the length of a healthy life.” “As is well-known, she says, “Russian women live much longer than do Russian men, but at the same time, they live their last years in far from the best state of health.” That too hasn’t been addressed but needs to be.