Tuesday, September 12, 2017

As Presidential Election Nears, Moscow Statistics Becoming Ever Less Reliable, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – All governments try to put their best foot forward especially in advance of elections, but the Russian state agencies are going above and beyond what regimes normally do, putting out figures that for various reasons can’t be true or that in fact on close inspection highlight just how bad the situation in Russia now is.

            Eduard Gavrilov, the head of the Health Independent Monitoring Foundation, tells Sonya Noreman of the Babr news portal of Irkutsk that the health ministry is using double standards and manipulating death data in order to come up with “improved” numbers for Moscow to issue (babr24.com/msk/?IDE=164931).

            Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, he notes, has trumped a small decline in death rates this year, but she ignores the fact that the new rate, 514.4 cases per 100,000 members of the working age population, is still “330 cases greater than in EU countries,” with whom Russia often compares itself.

            “The leadership of the health ministry, Gavriolv continues, “over the course of several years has regularly changed its approach to the interpretation of data on mortality. When death rates fall, the ministry gives itself all the credit, but when they go up, the health care system suddenly has nothing to do with that. Instead, aging, smoking and other factors are blamed.

            More serious, however, is the way in which the ministry forces doctors to change the cause of death so that Moscow’s figures look better. According to the Doctors of the Russian Federation Community, 34 percent of Russian doctors say they are familiar with “manipulations of the diagnoses of the cause of death in hospitals.” 

            According to that organization, the blame lies entirely on Moscow: The health ministry gives orders for the numbers it wants to the regions, the regions then pass these on to the heads of hospitals, and then the chief doctors there direct the regular doctors to report what the center needs.

            But that is far from the only way in which Moscow is falsifying the situation.  According to the Forum-MSK portal, the life expectancy boosts the health ministry has been reported are possible only if no one has died in the last seven months and some have seen the calendar speed up (forum-msk.org/material/news/13692907.html).

            If in fact, as the ministry claims, live expectancy has increased by 0.583 years over the last seven months, that means, the portal says, that “during these seven months, no one died so that life expectancy could grow by that amount.”  Men are the real “shock workers” in this regard, the portal says: their life expectancy has increased more than the amount of time passed.

            But even if those figures are somehow accurate – and the portal argues they can’t be – they would only raise Russia in the world rankings from below that of China, Boliva and Kyrgyzstan to that of Libya, Azerbaijan and Paraguay.  However, that figure isn’t even the worst aspect of the minister’s statement.

            The health minister proudly claims that Russia has made big progress against tuberculosis and other diseases, forgetting to mention that even the new improved numbers Moscow is offering put it far behind European countries – and indeed in some cases further behind than it was a generation ago.

            As a result, the portal concludes, “the government of Russia in its current form is incapable of offering any serious program to increase the live expectancy of Russians even to the level of developed countries. Over the 17 years of Putin’s rule, it remains more than ten years behind them” on that measure.

            And the reason is this: “spending on healthcare has been sharply reduced, dropping from five to two percent of GDP.” Russia may be able to compete with the West militarily, but it can’t compete at all in terms of healthcare and life expectancy.

            This list of distorted data could be expanded almost infinitely. But two cases that surfaced this week are at least worthy of note: According to the first, HIV/AIDS activists say that Moscow is simply lying when it claims that 44 percent of all AIDS victims in that country are getting help. That figure is an embarrassment; the real one, much lower is criminal (takiedela.ru/news/2017/09/12/nemnozhko-goloslovno/).

As a result of the failure of the government to get the necessary medicines into the hands of those suffering from this disease, activists say, 80 Russians are dying of AIDS every day, a figure that means Russia is suffering nearly 30,000 premature deaths from that disease alone (republic.ru/posts/86330).

And according to the second, offered by scholars at the Higher School of Economics, Russians should be pleased that at any given income they can now afford to buy the ingredients for cabbage soup, a statement that is likely true at least in most part of the country but that ignores that they can afford to buy much less meat and healthier foods (republic.ru/posts/86330).

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