Tag Archives: Moscow Times

News and Observer column overlooks big problems in Russian healthcare system

After experiencing frustrating problems with two doctors at a Cary, N.C. medical practice, Oksana Zhirnov decided to take some radical steps to get medical care.

Instead of finding a new local doctor, Zhirnov packed her bags and flew off to Russia to see a physician, she writes in an opinion column in today’s (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Apparently, Zhirnov had a very positive experience in the private Russian medical system—and paid only $250 (plus airfare) for several diagnostics, a diet consultation, and even French herb-based gall bladder tablets.

She believes that her private Russian doctors were so good because they face competition from Russia’s government-run universal health care system.

Based on this conjecture—and the fact that her mother, living in Russia, pays $1,200 a year for medical care—Zhirnov concludes:

My experience with these two health care systems leads me to believe that the American health care system is not as patient-focused as the private Russian system. Maybe a two-tiered system for medical coverage would improve the quality of health care offered to all Americans, like me.

There are excellent arguments being made for the creation of some kind of universal health care coverage in the United States. But Zhirnov’s column is not among them.

While Russia’s private health care system—where doctors are paid in cash by patients—may, in fact, be quite good, Russia’s public system is a corruption-filled mess.

As Alex Rodriguez writes in the Chicago Tribune, “Russia is an unhealthy nation, and its health-care system is just as sick. Its hospitals are understaffed, poorly equipped and rife with corruption.”

Rodriguez goes on to describe how bribery often greases the wheels of remarkably poor medical care, and cites an Open Health Institute statistic that 35 percent of money spent on health care goes to corruption.

A 2007 article from a Moscow Times correspondent published in the New York Times lays out how this corruption affects ordinary patients:

When Karen Papiyants lost his leg in a road accident last year, his medical nightmare was only beginning.

Although like any Russian he was entitled to free treatment, he says the doctors strongly suggested he pay $4,500 into their St. Petersburg hospital’s bank account, or be deprived proper care – and perhaps not even survive.

Faced with that choice, relatives of the 37-year-old truck driver scrambled to scrape together the money. But Papiyants said that did not stop the nursing staff from leaving him unattended for most of the night and giving him painkillers only after he screamed in agony.

“It’s nothing but blackmail and extortion on the part of doctors,” Papiyants said.

Beyond corruption, the Chicago Tribune article notes that in 2006, the state-run system ran low on prescription drugs due to bureaucratic problems. Only those with money to buy drugs elsewhere could afford to stay healthy. In 2007, a state hospital in Eastern Russia ran out of syringes. Again, only those with money to buy their own could be treated.

Given the dismal state of Russia’s public health care system, it’s shocking to see a call for universal health care based on this nation. A two-tiered system of the Russian sort might be good for those in the top tier, but relegating everyone else to bribery and poor care is not something any government program should ever do.

Racism in Russia

As I was hanging out by the Gulf of Finland recently, a Russian acquaintance engaged me in a conversation about U.S. politics.

“Do you think Obama can solve the U.S. economic crisis,” he asked.

“I think he’s working hard on it – I think he has a good chance,” I responded.

“But,” the Russian persisted, “Obama is black.”

This exchange wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Russians question Obama’s competence based on his ethnicity (though I have relatively few conversations with Russians, in part due to my limited Russian skills).

More broadly, it fits into a pattern of racist attitudes held by some (but certainly not all) Russians towards people who are not white Europeans.

The media has overlooked this attitude, even as newspapers and TV stations have reported on Obama’s efforts to improve relations with Russia as he visits Moscow.

But for those harmed by Russian racism, this pernicious social fact cannot be overlooked.

Visibly foreign students, particularly Africans and Asians, sometimes face harassment and even violence in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities, as documented by the BBC in several 2006 articles.

A lot of the violence is perpetrated by Neo-Nazis, such as the ones described in this TIME article. But the attitude goes beyond the skinheads.

There are also the subtle looks at minorities, the passing comments made about people from “the south” (Largely Muslims from Russia’s southern regions and the bordering former Soviet republics), the police harassment (see this article, for example), the recoiling of subway passengers from dark-skinned people, the racist chants targeting black players at Zenit football matches — all of which make Russia an unfriendly place for those who are not white.

One of our Russian teachers, a middle-aged woman, began class by asking each of her students what we had done the week before.

After we finished describing the museums we had visited, she said, “It’s great that you get out. The Chinese students never go anywhere. Only to the store.”

The same teacher also told us about the “problem” Russia has. People from “the south,” she said, are moving into St. Petersburg and other major cities and giving birth to many children. She worried that these people (who are strong and able to produce lots of kids because they don’t drink, as she put it), will soon outnumber white Russians.