Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medical Care Merits Better Treatment

The summer closing of Russia's premier cancer treatment center is just one symptom of a disease which has infected the nation's medical industry. The time has come for a dose of serious medicine.

The 1, 100-patient hospital on Moscow's south side is supposed to be closed for repairs until Sept. 1. But the leisurely pace at which the work is progressing, as well as interviews with administrators, patients and physicians suggest a different reason: a lack of money.

At least four hospitals in Moscow have similarly closed for the summer. Most likely, the hospitals will reopen as scheduled. Perhaps the underpaid doctors wanted a vacation.

Ostensibly, the rationale for the shutdown is that the hospitals, in effect, can turn a profit by closing their doors because their state funding is not based on the number of patients treated and, therefore, the institutions can save on food, medicine and other costs which patients receive for free.

Only a monolithic, out-of-touch bureaucracy could come up with such a solution for an institution whose main function should be service to the people. Based on this tortured logic, it would be hard to justify, monetarily, the reopening of the hospitals.

From St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, hospitals are overcrowded and medicines are in short supply. The most disturbing trend, however, is that physicians are leaving their profession in droves. Who can blame them?

Physicians have always been underpaid in Russia as part of a Communist ideology that undervalued professional work. Under Russia's new capitalism, however, the situation has gone from bad to worse. The average wage for a physician is now less than 80, 000 rubles ($80) a month, a sum achievable by children washing cars on the street.

Former physicians are today driving cars, working in kiosks and selling wares on the streets. This is not only a tragedy for the physicians who were trained to save lives, but for all of Russia.

Some would argue that a nation as economically strapped as Russia simply can't afford the "luxury" of a cancer research center. A cancer patient typically costs $350-$1, 500 to treat - a small sum by international standards, but in a country where the average monthly salary is under $100, it is extraordinarily expensive.

Russia is going through an economic crisis but it cannot afford to ignore improving the life prospects for a significant portion of its population. Not when millions are spent on propping up inefficient industries.

Whatever reform plan Russia pursues, it must allow for a reasonable level of health care that surely should include new treatments for killer diseases like cancer.