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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Health Minister To Stress Prevention

Tatyana Dmitriyeva may have caught the public eye as the only woman to be named to the new cabinet, but medical experts believe that her specialization, and not her gender, will play a greater role in shaping Russia's health priorities.

A leading psychiatrist, Dmitriyeva, 44, will soon leave her post at the Serbsky Scientific Center of Social and Legal Psychiatry and bring her knowledge of the human mind to lead the Health Ministry.

"I like the fact that she is a woman," said Andrei Demin, president of the Russian Public Health Association. "But it is even more important that she is a psychiatrist. Dmitriyeva's knowledge of the human soul will help her guide us through this difficult transitional period."

Dmitriyeva's priorities as health minister do indeed appear to be focused more on preventative measures than high technology, but responsibility, she said in her first interview in Friday's edition of Rossiiskaya Gazeta, is a two-way street.

"It is more important not to restore health but to prevent illness," said Dmitriyeva. "This is not only the health ministry's job, but relies on many factors, such as lifestyle and nutrition."

"My specialization will not be a hindrance," Dmitriyeva said. "A psychiatrist is also a psychologist. And it is obvious that we need to change our psychological attitude toward the health of society."

Assuming the leadership of the health ministry, Dmitriyeva will also inherit responsibility for the general decay of the country's health care system. She will have to sift through a myriad problems -- meager medical salaries, the onslaught of infectious diseases such as diphtheria and tuberculosis, the appallingly low life expectancy rate, and rising rates of cancer and birth defects -- to outline priorities for a new government policy.

But Dmitriyeva will have less control over some aspects of the nation's health because of a reform in the structure of the cabinet during the latest reshuffle which cut the power of her ministry.

The responsibility for producing pharmaceuticals and medical equipment will be transferred to the Industry Ministry.

However, the activities of GosSanEpidNadzor, the government committee on sanitation and epidemiological inspection which, among other things, responds to emergency epidemics, will now fall directly under the Health Ministry. This will include the damaging effects of environmental disaster zones, estimated to cover 15 percent of Russia's land mass, the poor quality of drinking water, and a host of other problems.

But a change of approach could be more effective than bureaucratic paper shuffling. "We need a new approach to health care in Russia. People need to be better informed," said Demin, adding that the government needs to step up public awareness campaigns so that citizens will be aware of the risks they face, from avoiding AIDS to getting off the bottle.

"One of the greatest factors of our poor health is related to the abuse of alcohol," said Demin, adding that the health ministry should "set the country on the right path."

Alcoholism may be an age-old problem in Russia, but according to Demin it has taken an even greater toll on human life in recent years. According to demographic statistics, the greatest causes of premature death in Russia are accidental poisonings and injuries related to alcohol. And while the average life expectancy for Russian men increased last year from 57 to 58, the number of accidental deaths was still on the upswing.

One medical expert, who wished to remain anonymous, commented that the reputation of Dmitriyeva's Serbsky Center -- where many political dissidents were subject to psychiatric treatment during the Soviet era -- is slightly tarnished, but that Dmitriyeva herself is well respected in her field.

"She is a capable doctor who is energetic and thinks clearly," he said. "And besides, she is too young to have been involved in the treatment of political dissidents."