Russians are dying because of inadequate health care

Fuelled by high oil prices, Russia's economy has surged at a hefty 6 percent-plus rate since 1998, producing big income gains for some groups of workers. A key question, however, is whether the boom is substantially improving the lives of the general population, says BusinessWeek's Gene Koretz.

The answer suggested by Russia's health indicators -- especially life expectancy, which many experts consider the best yardstick of well-being -- is disappointing.

  • From 1990 to 1994, as per-capita income fell by 40 percent, male life expectancy fell by more than five years, to 57.6 years, and female expectancy fell three years, to 71.2 years.

  • More than 60 percent of the decline in life expectancy between 1990 and 1994 were erased after the economy turned around but dipped again, in 1998, when the ruble crashed.

  • However in more recent years, as per capita GDP has jumped at a 6 percent average rate, life expectancy has continued to slip, falling by half a year for males in 2001, the latest year for which data are available.

    Russian medical officials estimate that some 40 percent of the deaths could be preventable with a proper health care system. Despite recommendations, the government still spends only 3.8 percent of GDP on health, which is less than half the average of developed nations.

    Unless Russia succeeds in spreading the benefits of its surging economy to all its people and starts repairing its medical system, its health problems will inevitably undermine future economic progress, says Koretz.

    Source: Gene Koretz, Russia's Huge Health Hurdle: As its Economy Booms, Life Spans are Still Falling, BusinessWeek, October 13, 2003.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin\18 November 2003

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