Baku, May 5 – Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has succeeded in getting a Daghestani court to close the only free women’s clinic there because of its ties to Islam, a move that threatens the health of mothers and newborns there and across the North Caucasus and one that has prompted Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov to offer the clinic a new home in Grozny.
Last week, a Makhachkala court, at the urging of the FSB, closed the only free gynecological hospital in Daghestan. The reason for this, many believe, is that personnel at the 14-year-old hospital which has received funds from abroad follow the precepts of Islam and have verses from the Koran on their walls (www.islam.ru/rus/2008-05-04/#21012).
But one Moscow commentator, Maksim Shevchenko, suggested on Ekho Moscow that there may be another and even uglier motive: Some in Moscow, he said, may want to see birthrates in the North Caucasus and the number of surviving children decline, even if that can only be achieved by effectively denying women there access to medical care.
Shevchenko, the leader of the Moscow Center for Strategic Research on Religion and Politics, a member of the Social Chamber and fixture Russia’s First Channel television, described the closure of the hospital “a tragedy,” saying that such a development that should make any human being sick at heart.
The Makhachkala court’s decision caps an FSB campaign against the hospital that the security agency launched in the 1990s. But at that time, Mogamet Ali Magomedov, who then headed the Daghestan State Council, successfully defended it as an essential component of health care not only in his republic but for the North Caucasus as a whole.
Some 40,000 women a year “ from across the entire [region],” the Moscow television personality continued, “have been coming there, women who [often] have six to nine children,” and who cannot afford the 10,000 rubles (420 U.S. dollars) that other hospitals in that region now charge for each birth.
Without such a facility, infant mortality, already high in the North Caucasus, will go higher still, a human tragedy for the people in that region but apparently something some Russian officials in Moscow don’t mind if it will prevent the overwhelmingly Muslim population there from increasing its share in population of the Russian Federation
Shevchenko said he hoped that officials would come to their senses, and he noted that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has already proposed to the hospital’s staff that they move to a facility in Grozny if they are not able to reverse the court’s decision and remain in operation in Makhachkala.
Two other pieces of medical news over the weekend highlight just how immoral and counterproductive this latest Russian government action is. On the one hand, Gennady Onischenko, the chief doctor of Russia’s public health system, pointed out that HIV/AIDS rates are far lower in Muslim areas than in non-Muslim portions of the country.
Consequently, he continued in a speech to a meeting devoted to combating that disease, Moscow needs to work closely with the leaders of the Muslim community in order to be able to learn from their experience and thus prevent the further deterioration of Russian public health in this area (www.islam.ru/rus/2008-05-04/#21012).
And on the other, having examined Russia’s problems with alcoholism, problems that are far greater in non-Muslim sections of the population than in Muslim ones, the United Nations mission in the Russian capital recommended that Moscow resume the Soviet-era practice of the forced treatment of alcoholics (www.medportal.ru/mednovosti/news/2008/04/29/alco/ ).