From Mon Feb 21 07:00:11 2005
Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2005 01:17:18 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Child health crisis in Russia
Article: 205172
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

This is the print version of story

Child health crisis in Russia

By Emma Griffiths, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 19 February 2006

ELIZABETH JACKSON: A new report into children's health in Russia has revealed that seven out of ten babies are born with health problems. The rate of illness increases during school to the point where 50 per cent of Russian high school graduates suffer from chronic conditions that restrict their career choices.

The sorry figures have been revealed by Russia's own Health Ministry in its annual report and as Moscow Correspondent Emma Griffiths reports some doctors say the situation is even worse.

(Sound of Stas Kardanov speaking in Russian)

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Stas Kardanov is 6-years-old. He's come to Moscow's Central Children's Clinic from his home in southern Russia, severely ill. Sometimes he can’t breathe. His grandmother, Galina, cries every time she talks about it.

She says he came here with such hope that he will get healthy and won’t be sick ever again. He says, “Grandma it's so great I’m still alive, I’m going to Moscow and I’ll return healthy.”

On the bench in the waiting room, sick children and their mothers crowd around.

Little two-year-old Timur pats his stomach. He's got diabetes. Nearby 13-year-old Sasha tells us he's sick with leukaemia and has to have all sorts of tests. These are some of the sickest children in Russia and in one sense they’re the lucky ones because they are being treated in arguably the best children's clinic in the country.

But across Russia the health ministry's statistics on children's ill-health is alarming. Seven out of ten babies are born with a sickness. Most of them need intensive care. Most of them live in areas deemed ecologically unsafe.

One in 12 children are underweight. And by the time children leave school, 50 per cent are so sick it limits their career choices. A quarter of young women have reproductive problems.

Director of Russia's Health Ministry, Olga Sharapova, has just handed the figures to her Minister.

OLGA SHARAPOVA (translated): The number of sick children has increased. We are registering more and more sick children. There are various reasons for that. The first are the social factors. Secondly, children's clinics have got qualified specialists. There is better modern equipment which helps us recognise the real diagnosis.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: The equipment has become better but now there's a shortage of children's doctors. In the past 10 years the number of paediatricians in Russia has shrunk by 10,000. Those still working here fear the situation is much worse.

Professor Vaganov Nikolay:

“There is a debate about what constitutes a healthy child,” he says. “I don’t believe the statistics. I don’t believe 30 per cent of children are healthy. I always talk about only two per cent.”

For many families the child's illness is a heavy financial burden. Welfare payments vary across the country but it's hard to qualify and the amount is never enough.

After many complaints from doctors and patients, the Health Ministry has agreed to extend the list of free medicine but with such a large population so sick, as one doctor put it, Russia's health woes are never ending.