Staunton, May 31 – As a result of the collapse of public services in the 1990s and Vladimir Putin’s health optimization program more recently, there has been a massive reduction in the number of birthing homes in rural Russia and an almost 50 percent decline in the number of hospital beds allocated to pregnant women.
In 1990, government statistics report, there were 122,000 hospital beds for women about to give birth; in 2015, the last year for which comprehensive statistics are available, that number had fallen by almost half to 69,400, just slightly more than the 62,900 that had existed at the end of World War II (rbc.ru/society/30/05/2017/592c32549a7947f2b221e488?from=main).
In major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, improvements in equipment and personnel in the remaining hospitals has driven down both maternal mortality and infant mortality; but in rural areas, the reduction in hospital beds for pregnant women has had disastrous consequences, undercutting Moscow’s hopes for demographic improvement.
For Russia as a whole, maternal mortality has indeed fallen significantly, to 10.1 deaths per 100,000 births in 2015 and infant mortality during pregnancy and the first days of life has also fallen countrywide to 8.29 deaths per 1,000 births. But in many regions, the situation is very different and very bad.
In Magadan, maternal mortality is 57 deaths per 100,000 births – almost six times the all-Russia figure; in Tomsk, it is 48; and in Buryatia and Oryol 35. Infant mortality is also higher in many regions. The RBC report notes that it is now 18.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in the Chukchi Autonomous District.
These higher death rates reflect the fact that with the closure of birthing houses in rural areas, many Russians have to travel enormous distances over often impassable roads if they go by car or by air if they can afford it – or if in a particular locale, the health ministry is willing and able to send a plane.