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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Metro Clinics Sell Organ Snapshots

It took just 10 minutes for Svetlana to confirm her pregnancy. And she did it in the convenience of a metro station on her way home. In a tiny clinic in the Turgenyevskaya metro station tunnel, Alexei Makarov gave the radiant Svetlana a snapshot of the fetus growing inside her, taken from his ultrasound machine.


"It's nice to see that someone is happy. I look inside people every day, and know right off that some of them don't have long to live. Confirming a sickness is never easy," says Makarov, director of Ulsonik, a chain of clinics offering ultrasound diagnoses in metro stations.


Ulsonik charges 80,000 rubles ($13.80) per scan. A list of organs that can be viewed hangs on a wall in the clinic next to a plastic plant.


Ultrasound machines send high-frequency signals, or ultrasounds, through the body from a pen-sized microphone, and then pick up the vibrations that bounce back from the inner organs. The machine collects those reverberations and creates a black and white picture from the data.


Since it started up five years ago, Ulsonik has grown to diagnose about 100 people a day in five metro stations -- Okhotny Ryad, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina, Komsomolskaya, Tretyakovskaya and Turgenevskaya. Ulsonik's 40 doctors and nurses only provide scans and a simple diagnosis. They do not offer treatment.


"It may be a strange place to have a medical clinic, but the convenience will prompt more people to come in and get diagnosed in time to be cured," says Makarov, 36. The centers also offer simple eyesight examinations, for a fee of 35,000 rubles. "It's not surgery. All it takes from us is a chart on the wall," he says.


The most common diagnoses among Ulsonik's female clients are pregnancies -- often unwanted -- and kidney stones. Illnesses span all organs and come in all stages of development. "People are not healthy," Makarov says. "It could be the water. It could be the way of life."


"Super," says Vladimir, 55, after being told he can get a black and white snapshot of his prostate gland in 15 minutes. "Everything is so convenient now in Moscow. You can buy a beer in the metro. Why not be able to see what such garbage does to you?" he says.


Next to Vladimir sits Natasha, 45, who is worried about her uterus. With her hands folded in her lap, she sits nervously, waiting for her turn with the machine. "At least I won't have to wait for the results," she says.


Outside the clinic, schoolteacher Larisa Kamarova laments that she cannot afford an ultrasound at Ulsonik on her monthly salary of less than $70.


Kamarova, 45, has been having stomach pains for a year and tries to stay away from white flour and acidic juices, foods that seem to irritate her stomach.


"Maybe I have an ulcer, but this is too much money to pay just to make sure there is a reason for my pain. It won't make the pain go away," she says.


Kamarova fears that charging for sophisticated procedures like ultrasounds will become the norm, and such diagnoses will remain out of reach for those who cannot afford private care.


Makarov says he works underground as opposed to a conventional clinic or a hospital because the pay is better.


Ulsonik offices give doctors 25 percent of their profits and nurses, 5 percent. He would not reveal Ulsonik's income, but he is planning to renovate all of his existing centers and open new ones.


Each new center requires its own ultrasound machine that cost about $34,000 each.