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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Life Expectancy Slides Dramatically

Rising infant mortality, crime, accidents, suicides and heart disease combined to drive Russian life expectancy dramatically lower in 1993, according to Russian and international experts.

Initial government reports suggest that men's average lifespan fell by three years, from 62 to 59, in the course of a single year, and that overall life expectancy fell to 65.8 years from 67.9.

"What is important and significant is that" life expectancy is falling in Russia, "as opposed to almost every other country in the world, where the opposite is taking place," said Hasso Molineus, operations manager of the World Bank in Moscow. "It is a significant drop, and we would really like to know what caused it."

A preliminary report from the State Statistics Committee prepared for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin cited three probable causes for the drop: a rise in deaths by some type of trauma; an increase in infant mortality; and worsening incidence of heart disease. Trauma includes industrial and automobile accidents, suicides, killings, military casualties and poisonings.

According to the Ministry of Health's statistics, trauma rose from the fifth leading cause of death in the mid-1980s to the third in Russia today, outstripped only by heart disease and cancer.

Alexander Tkachenko, head of the Labor Ministry's department of labor and population policy, blamed a deterioration in worker safety for many of the trauma deaths, as well as a rise in injuries related to alcoholism.

"The situation is crucial and it could not be worse," Tkachenko said. "It is a matter of life and death."

International analysts reacted with alarm to the data, but Russian health professionals said that they had seen firsthand evidence for some time.

"After the fall of communism the economy fell apart," said Dr. Ilya Kuzin, chief doctor at Moscow's Botkin Hospital. "The majority of people do not have a balanced diet. People eat a lot, but not enough protein and foods with vitamins."

He estimated that one-third of the population suffered from malnutrition, and also blamed an explosion in the accessibility of alcohol and cigarettes.

That, as well as a breakdown of the health care system, has driven infant mortality up, Kuzin said. Infant deaths have a major pull on life expectancy figures, particularly for males, as most of those deaths occur in boys, he said.

In 1992,the Russian government reported 17.8 deaths per 1,000 babies under age 1, while in 1993 that rate increased to 19.3, according to the Associated Press. However Western analysts believe those figures to be higher.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimated Russia's infant mortality at 29 per 1,000 in 1992, about the same as Mexico, Paraguay and Thailand. In Germany, by comparison, the rate is 7 deaths per 1,000.

Life expectancy for women was greater than for men, but it also declined in 1993, from 73.8 in 1992 to 73.2, according to the government report.

Most former Soviet republics, as well as other Eastern European countries, including Hungary and Poland, have also experienced such declines since the collapse of communism, said an analyst at the World Health Organization in Copenhagen, speaking unofficially.

"Particularly in countries where there was so-called 'shock therapy,' there were significant decreases in life expectancy," he said.

The decline in life span began after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Life expectancy reached a high in 1989, at 64 for men and 74.4 for women. Since 1990, it has dropped steadily, according to State Statistics Committee figures.

It puts the average Russian life span on par with those in Brazil, Algeria and Syria, although analysts said the figures should be taken as preliminary.

The World Bank has cited increases in incomes as a primary factor in improving overall health. But more than one quarter of Russians live below the poverty line of $35.36 per month, according to January figures.

Molineus, at the World Bank, said a loan of $100 to $400 million to modernize health care could be forthcoming.