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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Web-Site Simplifies Search for Medicine

You're miserably sick. You've been to the doctor, gotten a prescription. But you haven't the slightest idea where in Moscow you can get hold of that precious get-me-on-my-feet-again medication.

Have no fear, is here.

Log on and find out the whereabouts of your chemical salvation. The pharmacy with the goods may be just a metro stop away.

This is just one feature of the new web-site, "Medicine for You," a comprehensive resource for public health information and communication.

The innovation was the daughter of necessity. Last spring, hard at work on immunization pilot projects in three far-flung Russian regions, or oblasts, American and Russian public health information specialists started to wonder about their work.

What good was it spreading information among thousands when millions remained in the dark? They couldn't fly around to dozens of oblasts. They couldn't hire hundreds more specialists.

But they could launch an Internet web-site. With this month's formal unveiling of Medicine for You, doctors, public health organizations and even laypeople across Russia have a new way to link up -- and, most importantly, to do it in Russian.

The site gives health professionals thousands of miles apart a chance to communicate via teleconferences, as well as transmitting the latest Ministry of Health documents to regions far from the center. It will put local health officials in touch with the international marketplace for health-related merchandise, allowing them to find out, for instance, who is selling a given vaccine and at what price. Clinical information on medications will also be provided at the site.

In addition, the latest scientific articles will be available on an ever-expanding database. Medicine for You will provide both original information and will make available in translation materials from various Western medical web-sites.

And, of course, for Muscovites only, there is information on what medication is available at which pharmacies in the city. For the last three years, there have been separate phone numbers one could dial using a modem to obtain pharmaceutical information in Moscow, but these were never a part of the Internet. Though designed for health professionals, the site will be accessible to anyone with a modem and a mouse to click. Your computer will need Cyrillic fonts and your web-browser must be set up to use them.

People from outside the health profession will find not only medication information helpful, but also certain articles written for the popular audience, such as one on childhood epilepsy that is currently on the site.

The web-site was created by a Russian Ministry of Health agency called Medicine for You, along with a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded organization known as BASICS, which stands for Basic Support fordInstitutionalizing Child Survival.

BASICS has been active in Russia since October 1995, and it started working with the Medicine for You agency in February 1996.

Last May, the two organizations began to discuss the possibility of creating a web-site, and the pace of the project picked up when Samovar Internet Consulting came on board to help in October.

BASICS project coordinator Alexandra Murdoch said Russia has the requisite medical savvy for a strong public health system. "This is not a developing country," she said. "But they have an infrastructure that can't support them anymore. Before, they didn't have to figure out how to pay for themselves. Now they have to look at programs from a financial perspective."

Part of that process is shifting the public health focus from intervention to prevention. That's where an improved system of disseminating health information comes in. The web-site allows quick transmission of information to institutions across the nation, so public health measures can be undertaken en masse.

During the Soviet period, Murdoch said, the flow of information was better but still flawed. Information had to trickle down a chain of command, each post awaiting its orders from its immediate superior organization. This "vertical" structure of organization was slower than the "horizontal" structure used in the U.S., where organizations equal in stature but with different missions constantly coordinate and initiate their actions, usually allowing speedy responses across the board. Such response time is one of the goals of the new web-site.

E-mail ties -- under the web-site umbrella -- will play a key role. "We want to create a system that lets us send out e-mail documents to the regional health departments, and we need to be sure that they successfully receive and respond to them," said Oleg Larshin, information director of Medicine for You.

Soon, work on the web-site will have to go on without the support of BASICS. "Our funding with USAID ends in March, so one of the most important things now is to find private-sector or international donors interested in taking on this work, to work with the Ministry of Health to sponsor the web-site," said Murdoch.

Larshin said one potential method of fund-raising is selling advertisements on the web-site. "Of course, we're courting advertisers," he said. "We're trying to get the site to support itself."

If funding can be secured, Murdoch is convinced that Medicine for You is capable of building the site into a comprehensive information depot for Russia's health needs. "It's really exciting that our work with Medicine for You has progressed as quickly as it has," she said. "It's really a testimony to their professionalism."?