Monday, January 21, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Puts Russia’s Health at Risk in Pursuit of Higher Birthrates, Duma Deputies Say

Paul Goble

Baku, January 21 – In its pursuit of higher birthrates by severely restricting the availability of abortions, Moscow is putting the nation’s future health and well-being at risk, according to Russian parliamentarians. Instead, they say, the government should focus on improving the conditions in which ordinary Russians now life.
Last week, the Russian health ministry restricted the ability of doctors to prescribe or perform abortions by eliminating some of what had been considered medical justifications for them. Henceforth, doctors cannot prescribe one for women suffering from mental retardation, chronic alcoholism or a number of major diseases.
The ministry did so, the news portal reported on Friday, not for medical reasons but rather in order to be able to report to President Vladimir Putin that “yet another path of the resolution of [Russia’s] demographic problems” about which he has spoken so often has been “found” ( ).
At present, there are more abortions in Russia each year than in any country in Europe – some 1.5 million in all or 13 for every 10 live births. Hence, the officials calculate that reducing their number by reducing the number of medical conditions that allow them will “solve” the problem.
In taking this decision, the news service report said, “the bureaucrats [apparently] have not been worried by the fact that their racing after statistics now will have a negative impact on future generations” in the country.” And to reinforce this point, a correspondent interviewed members of the Russian parliament.
Those with whom they talked were unanimous in saying that “the restriction of the list of medical indications for the termination of pregnancies” was not only “a poor means” of resolving demographic problems but also “irresponsible,” given its likely impact on “the nation and on children who [as a result] will be born to sick mothers.”
Khuseyn Chechenov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s committee responsible for overseeing health matters, described the ministry’s decision as “strange,” while Senator Valentina Petrenko, who chairs the FC’s social policy committee, said that she did not think the ministry had acted on its own.
“I do not think that the health and social development ministry is so irresponsible that it would propose solving the demographic problem in this way.” In her view, the orders to do so came from more senior politicians, who want result quickly and do not understand that Russia should address its problems in this area “by other means.”
Elena Afanas’yeva, a member of the Duma’s committee on women’s affairs, agreed. Restricting access to abortions in this way, she said, “will not improve the demographic situation in the country.” What the country needs are programs that raise the “material well-being of the population.”
At present, she pointed out, “people cannot afford to maintain their own health” let alone think about having children “because they do not have enough money even to buy the medicines” they themselves need. Other parliamentarians, including Oleg Kulikov of the Duma’s health committee agreed.
But despite money coming in from the sale of gas and oil, the Russian government seems unwilling to spent some of that income to boost the well-being of the population. And as a result,in some key respect, life for the average Russian may be getting worse this winter in the most tangible ways.
Across the country, breakdowns in the supply of electricity, water and heat have left many average Russians cold and in the dark. In Daghestan, problems with such services have prompted angry citizens to go into streets and block traffic. Given the statement of one local official there, they may be even more furious.
On Saturday, Daghestani President Mukhu Aliyev commented that even though there is no heat or light in the homes of many Makhachkala residents, the city’s casinos and gambling houses patronized by the elite have plenty of power and continue “working around the clock” ( ).
But a more general survey of the situation suggests that such communal services are “at the edge of collapse” throughout Russia. Specialists have been warning about this for some years, but Moscow has not paid attention or sought to correct the problem (
Most of the country’s communal infrastructure was built in Soviet times, but since 1991, officials have not invested “any serious funds” in its overhaul, updating or expansion, the analyst says. Instead, they have limited themselves to fixing things when they actually break or at most doing “cosmetic” improvements.
But there is one “public” health area that Moscow has been putting some real money into: the development of special medicines to prevent its security personnel who have taken part in Russian combat operations in Chechnya and other hotspots from committing suicide after service there.
In a program on REN TV, researchers working for Russian special services describe not only their efforts to develop poisons to be used against Moscow’s enemies without leaving a trace but also their contribution to preventing suicides among security service personnel (
“While the percentage of suicides in all special services of the world is very high,” one of the doctors said, Russian officials were shocked when nearly 900 military personnel and security service officers committed suicide during the first year alone after the conclusion of the first post-Soviet Chechen campaign.
To counter the depression that their service in the North Caucasus had caused and that had led them to kill themselves, the doctors say that they came up with a powerful medication that “practically eliminated such a pathological lack of desire to live” and thus allowed these officers to continue to serve the state.

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