Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coronavirus Highlights Deadly Costs of Putin’s Health ‘Optimization’ Program

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 28 – The real costs of Vladimir Putin’s program of health “optimization” which has led to the closing of numerous hospitals, the reduction of funding for those remaining, and the firing of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals have now become obvious: the system can’t save many of the victims of the coronavirus.

            Putin began his program in the name of efficiency and saving money. Money has certainly been pulled out of this sector and used for other purposes, but whether it is more “efficient” is an open question. And now Russians can see they are the victims, Moscow media report (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/03/27/84537-my-slyazhem-kto-spasat-lyudey-budet and svpressa.ru/health/article/261002/).

            Even if there had been no optimization program, of course, Russian medical facilities would have been overwhelmed by the coronavirus just as that pandemic is overwhelming medical sectors in other countries. But what Putin did has meant that Russia was less prepared to cope now than it was before he acted.

            Fyodor Biryukov, a leader of the Rodina Party, says that in the case of an epidemic, the balance of responsibility for healthcare shifts from the individual to the state because the challenge becomes so large. Unfortunately, the Russian state instead of getting ready to respond has made the situation worse by focusing on saving money rather than saving lives.

            The medical system under Putin “works in the interests of the super-rich ruling class, the financial and raw materials corporations.” The population that system is supposed to serve is viewed by the Kremlin and its supporters as either taxpayers or a burden on them, a burden they would like to reduce and have.

            “There is no just redistribution of national wealth and the majority of citizens work literally for food, from paycheck to paycheck. Their only means of getting additional money is to go into debt,” he says.  In normal times, they are prepared to tolerate this, but at a time of pandemic, they no longer are.

            Some among the authorities are beginning to understand that they need to adopt a different approach and that they need to be concerned about the interests of more than just the super wealthy. But the question remains “open.” Can the Putin system change and work for the real interests of the people?  The current situation does not give much reason for optimism.

Denis Zommer, director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Forming a Civil Society, is equally pessimistic.  He says that the regime has not shifted away from its cost-cutting approach, and as a result, Russians aren’t getting the healthcare they need and deserve. The hospital Putin visited is hardly typical, he adds.
            “After 2010 and especially in 2014-2015 [when Putin invaded Ukraine], a colossal number of medical institutions in Moscow have been subject to total reformation” with many closed or reduced in size in the name of saving money. But any such savings are now being paid for in human lives.
            Zommer says that the current situation contrasts unfavorably even with that after Chernobyl when the Soviet state faced a horrific challenge but responded more massively and more effectively than it is doing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
            As bad as the situation is in Moscow, doctors say, the situation beyond the ring road is much, much worse. There the health care system has “nothing, no money and no means of defense against the epidemic” (newizv.ru/news/society/28-03-2020/vrachi-iz-regionov-u-nas-nichego-net-ni-deneg-ni-sredstv-zaschity-ot-epidemii).

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