Tag Archives: New York 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.

New York Times on Russian Racism

As I was writing yesterday’s post about Russian racism, I was surprised to find that the American media had ignored this issue as America’s first black president visited Moscow. But today, the New York Times addressed Russian racism in a piece on Russia’s lack of Obama-mania:

In the background is the question of race, which Russians view through a complicated prism. For decades, Soviet propaganda hammered home the idea that the United States was an irredeemably racist country, as opposed to the Communist bloc nations. But Russia in recent years has been plagued by racist violence against people from the Caucasus region and Central Asia, as well as other immigrants.

Yet many young Russians, like David Zokhrabian, 21, who recently received a graduate degree in international relations from Moscow State University, said Mr. Obama’s race cut both ways. “Students in Moscow, they are pretty positive about this,” he said. “It’s cool, modern, progressive. All the students know American history, they know about segregation, so it shows us about democracy, how it can be.”

But the same cannot be said for average Russians, he said, adding: “It looks weird to them. They just think that America has gone crazy.”

Understanding today’s Russia

With President Obama in Moscow, America’s attention has been focused anew on its former cold war adversary. But nearly two decades after the fall of Communism, Russia remains an enigma to many Americans.

In an excellent example of explanatory journalism, Clifford J. Levy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, offers a simple six-step guide to “decoding Russia.”

Mr. Levy’s broad ideas about modern Russia are quite perceptive and accurate (no earth-shattering revelations), and should be read by every American who wants to gain a better understanding of the new Russia.

They reflect a strong understanding of what makes Russia tick – an understanding no doubt fed by Mr. Levy’s command of Russian and his efforts to reach out to Russian readers and sources.

Through all of Mr. Levy’s points runs a common thread – to understand Russia today, one needs to have an accurate understanding of Russia’s past. As I’ve written about before, this includes an appreciation for the massive toll of World War II – the Great Patriotic War – on Russia, and Russia’s perception that it bore the brunt of the conflict.

Beyond World War II, it’s important to acknowledge that Russians have a mixed view of their past – and that for many, the Soviet system had favorable aspects, while the current capitalist system has its pluses and minuses as well.

For more on what you need to know to understand Russia, including a brief overview of Russia’s take on former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (TIME Magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year), check out Mr. Levy’s piece.

Have your own questions about Russia? Leave them in the comments or send me an email, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Tomorrow – Kronstadt

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been exploring some of St. Petersburg’s 20th century historical sites.

Tomorrow, I’ll be venturing outside the city to the island and naval base of Kronstadt, about 20 miles west in the Gulf of Finland.

Kronstadt was the linchpin of St. Petersburg’s naval defenses at the turn of the twentieth century, and a line of forts on and near the island defend the city from the sea.

But in 1917, during the Bolshevik Revolution, the sailors at Kronstadt mutinied, killing their commanding officers. Due to this revolt, the sailors became known as some of the most pro-Red forces in Russia.

In 1921, however, as Lenin solidified control over the Soviet Union, the sailors became disenchanted with heavy-handed Bolshevik tactics, such as the violent suppression of strikes and the imposition of censorship. In early March, the sailors issued a set of demands, angering Bolshevik leaders.

Days later, 60,000 Red Army troops were ordered to attack Kronstadt across the ice from Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The troops suffered heavy casualties in their assault—the ice offered no protection from Kronstadt’s guns—and some had to be forced into battle by the Cheka, the KGB’s precursor.

By mid-March, the rebellion had been suppressed, at the cost of at least 10,000 Red Army soldiers and perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 Kronstadt rebels.

The 1921 Kronstadt rebellion was seen in the West as a sharp rebuke to the Soviet manifestation of Communism. On March 1, 1956, the 35th anniversary of the revolt and a few days after Khrushchev’s (not-so-secret) Secret Speech denouncing Stalinism, the New York Times wrote in an editorial:

In sorrow tinged with hope friends of freedom the world over today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Kronstadt Rebellion, which, though drowned in blood by Lenin and Trotsky, serves even today to remind us of the Russian people’s love for liberty.

Beyond a large and beautiful cathedral, I’m not sure what there is to see at Kronstadt. But there’s no way I could leave St. Petersburg without spending a day on an island steeped in so much history.

Long days, cold showers

In major Russian cities, hot water is produced centrally in big plants and then pumped out to individual buildings. This saves Russians the expense of a hot water heater.

But during the two weeks each summer when those plants and pipes get their needed maintenance, it costs everyone their hot water.

(Read Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Clifford Levy’s account of the hot water shutoff in Moscow in the New York Times here.)

In my district of St. Petersburg, the hot water was turned off yesterday, and will remain off for about two weeks.

Generally, residents of St. Petersburg cope by bathing at the homes of friends in different districts or by heating their water on the stove and taking sponge baths. I’ve also been told that some people shower less, which should make the metro rides a bit more fun.

We, of course, don’t have friends in other parts of the city to bum showers from.

But luckily for us, our apartment actually has a small hot water heater in it. It should provide for some lukewarm showers, if it works.