Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 100

One of the most disturbing features of the late Soviet period was the high rate of morbidity and mortality. Unfortunately, since 1991 the health of Russians has continued to deteriorate as falling income and social stress have been added to long-standing problems such as pollution, poor diet, and alcoholism.

A presidential commission on women, family, and demography, chaired by Yekaterina Lakhova, recently released a report on the sorry state of Russians’ health. (AP, May 14) It observed that, over the past six years, the number of deaths has jumped 60 percent while the number of births fell 40 percent. If current trends continue, Russia’s current population of 147 million will drop to 123 million by the year 2,030, even allowing for immigration of Russians from neighboring states. (The Independent (UK), May 15) Russia occupies 135th place in the world for male life expectancy, behind much of Africa and slightly ahead of Afghanistan. Life expectancy in general has now fallen to the level of Tsarist Russia. (St. Petersburg Times, May 12)

Much of the increase in deaths can be attributed to social factors. Between 1989 and 1995 the number of murders and deaths from alcohol poisoning doubled, and the number of suicides rose by one-half. For each 1000 persons of working age, 296 women died and 1,256 men. (Interfax, May 11) Such high death rates among adult males are found in other countries only in urban slums, where the social structure is in disarray. Yet in Russia the figures indicate it has become a nationwide phenomenon.

Apart from social breakdown, the poor state of the healthcare system must share some of the blame. In 1989-95 the number of deaths caused by contagious diseases increased by 70 percent. Spending on health care is less than 3 per cent of GDP, compared with 14 per cent in the U.S. and 9 per cent in Germany, and the state of the healthcare system has been virtually ignored by the federal government in the rush to push through economic reform.

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