August 31st, 2016

Stadiums Versus Hospitals

Photo by tranzewatte.livejournal.com

Photo by tranzewatte.livejournal.com

Russian healthcare, just like state-funded Soviet healthcare before it, has never been characterized by either quality or accessibility.  Despite rather large investments in the medical industry that both the federal and local budgets could afford during the period of high energy prices, the quality of medical care received by the population remains appallingly poor. There is a deficit of doctors, and their level of knowledge does not meet modern-day standards. There is a continuous deficit of effective drugs. Today, when oil revenues have plunged and there is no prospect of foreign investment, the question arises:  At whose expense will the government be cutting back on spending? The authorities have quickly found a solution on the federal level by gradually reducing healthcare spending for over a year. Local authorities act in a similar way. Only, whereas in Putin’s opinion, the government cannot cut down on “national security” spending (or in other words, federal expenditures on the police and special forces used to suppress popular unrest), local authorities use budget funds that were supposed to be spent on health care and education, for example, to build sports facilities for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup instead. Thus, in St. Petersburg, funds originally intended for the construction of schools, daycare centers and healthcare facilities are going to be used to complete the construction of the Zenit Arena stadium.

Georgi Poltavchenko, Putin’s colleague from the Leningrad KGB and current governor of St. Petersburg, called this redistribution of funds a “technical solution” instead of admitting that the country that is rapidly sliding into poverty simply cannot afford an expensive World Cup. It would seem that it should not be difficult for
the Gazprom-owned Zenit Football Club to find money to finance the completion of its home field. However, Gazprom’s profitability dramatically decreased in 2015-16. “Putin’s valet” is running out of money, and consequently the stadium is going to be paid for by the local budget funds originally allocated for children and sick.

 Russia’s federal and local authorities have for a long time been treating the country’s healthcare system as they deem fit. Even isolated examples allow one to draw deplorable conclusions let alone statistical data that reflects the situation in general. The sickness rate among the country’s population is rising, and while the number of hospitals is decreasing, the share of non-governmental facilities and private medical centers is growing. Even according to the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development, the state of medical facilities in the country is far from perfect. The quality of free medical care is deteriorating. According to Russia’s Accounting Chamber headed by former Russian minister of health and social development, the number of people dying in Russian hospitals has grown. At the same time the number of refusals to send an ambulance has increased by 270 thousand. It seems that the objective here was to lower the mortality rate associated with medical errors.   

According to a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), 50 percent of respondents believe the quality of medical care to be poor and professional qualifications of medical specialists to be insufficient. As a result, 25 percent of Russians resort to self-treatment. It is possible to improve the quality of medical care, including by improving the quality of education. However, education spending is being reduced perhaps even more rapidly than healthcare spending.

It is also worth noting that free healthcare services are being gradually replaced by chargeable ones. Thus, according to Russia’s Accounting Chamber, “the number of chargeable medical services has been increasing in a chaotic and unregulated manner when fees are being introduced unexpectedly and in a non-transparent form for services that are supposed to be provided free of charge”.

Photo by vladtime.ru

Photo by vladtime.ru

In the conditions of limited financial resources, the Russian government sees no other solution than to reduce budget financing of the healthcare system and to introduce fees for medical services. Putin, just like his predecessors Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, can only give pompous speeches about public health while at the same time redistributing scanty budget resources to pay for the construction of palaces and stadiums and to finance wars and the police. Just like the majority of dictators of the past and present, Putin is concerned only about his own health, both physical and mental.   He is not interested in regional hospitals and local doctors. Should the need arise any one of Putin’s numerous residences scattered throughout the country can be easily transformed into a modern and highly comfortable hospital for one patient. If you think that stadiums are being built for ordinary people you are mistaken.  It’s just that our current president is into sports.

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