Staunton, September 17 – Vladimir Putin’s call to boost life expectancy in Russia to 80 years by 2030 may be achieved in Moscow and a few better off regions, but in the northern reaches of the country, it will be almost impossible, according to Timur Fattakhov and Anastasiya Pyankova, demographers at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.
In a new article, “Reserves of Growth of Life Expectancies in the Northern Regions of Russia,” they describe the enormous obstacles that would have to be overcome for the Putin goals to be achieved there (Profilakticheskaya meditsina 23: 2 (2020): 89-96 at iq.hse.ru/news/399549079.html, summarized at publications.hse.ru/articles/376061321).
Not only would officials have to lower mortality from heart attacks, traumas, and murders among the local population, the two Moscow experts say, they would have to significantly reduce alcohol consumption and convince the people to take greater care of their health.
Fattakhov and Pyankova say in particular that “in order to bring life expectancies in the North close to those in the better off megalopolises,” the population must be provided with more accessible health care, greater technology, more and better medical personnel, and improved transportation so that people in distant areas can reach hospitals when they need to.
Life expectancies in the Russian north are 71.4, almost the same as for Russia as a whole where the figure is 72 but far behind Moscow where people can already expect to live to 78. That means that men in the North on average live 7.9 years fewer than male Muscovites and women in the North live 4.1 years fewer than their counterparts in the capital.
In percentage terms, people in the North made enormous strides between 2003 and 2016, but the demographers caution that “from a low level, it is always easier to achieve increases than from a higher one.” At the same time, there was real progress in reducing accidents and traumas and lowering alcohol consumption.
During that period and even now, the ages at which such changes can make a difference are for men in prime working age groups and for women over 65. That is because in the North in particular, the population has not succeeded in ending the impact of infectious diseases on the population.
According to the two Moscow demographers, much of what remains to be done requires massive social investment and a concerted effort to change life styles, such as alcohol consumption which leads to accidents, suicides, and other deaths, and to make medical care more rather than less accessible.
Per capita costs of health care are inevitably higher in the North given the low density of the population and the difficulty people there face in traveling to doctors or hospitals. If Moscow evaluates medical care costs there as it does for the rest of the country, the North will never catch up in terms of life expectancy because premature deaths will remain high.
Fattakhov and Pyankova do not address Putin’s health care optimization program directly, a program that has led to the closing of numerous medical points in the North as well as other rural parts of the country. But their analysis supports the conclusion that Putin’s policy on that makes the achievement of his life expectancy goals impossible, at least in the North.