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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Birth, Death Rates Paint Grim Health Picture

Russia is facing a demographic crisis, with deaths rising, births plummeting and the country's health picture resembling that of a Third World country, according to a new report by a presidential advisory commission.


More than 2.2 million people died in Russia in 1995, the latest year for which complete figures are available, as compared to 1.4 million births, said a report by the Presidential Commission on Women, Family and Demography cited by Interfax on Sunday. The country's total population is estimated at 147 million.


Those numbers were the reverse of the totals for 1989, when Russia's death rate was equivalent to those in European countries, the report said. Now, it said, Russia's death rate is higher than any European or American country and higher than most Asian and African states.


"The aim of the report is to inform the president and other top officials about the unprecedented rise in the death rate in the 1990s," news agencies quoted the report as saying.


Demographers say the rising mortality rate cannot be attributed to an aging population, since those born in the 1920s accounted for only 18 percent of deaths in 1995.


Rather, experts cite the collapse of the Russian state-run health-care system and declining living standards induced by economic reform as the root of the problems. Although Western pharmaceuticals and private medical care are becoming more available, many Russians cannot afford them.


Reuters quoted the report as saying the grim trends had continued in 1996. But Vladimir Borisov, senior lecturer in the sociology department of Moscow State Pedagogical University, said the demographic situation is somewhat brighter than indicated in the commission report, which relied on older data.


The latest government statistics, released just two weeks ago, show that modest progress was made in 1996 in increasing Russian life expectancy, Borisov said.


While life expectancy hit a low in 1994 at 57.6 years for men and 71.2 years for women, these numbers have risen two years running, to 59.6 for men and 72.7 for women, in preliminary 1996 statistics from the State Statistics Committee.


"People are getting used to economic changes," Borisov said. "Now people are beginning to earn money and spend more on their health."


What all demographers agree on is that Russia currently has more in common demographically with Third World countries than with the developed world. Among Asian states, only war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Cambodia have higher mortality rates.


Heart disease accounted for over half the deaths in Russia in 1995, followed by accidents, poisoning, trauma and cancer, according to government statistics. Borisov said deaths from car accidents are 5 to 6 times higher than in the West.


He attributed the grim statistics to poverty and a health-care system already ailing under Soviet rule and in which doctors are poorly trained and equipped. The Soviet Union discouraged an individual approach to the patient, Borisov said, though the government is attempting to remedy that through compulsory health insurance that allows patients to select their doctor, and by the development of private health care.


Many people are postponing childbirth until the social and economic situation in the country stabilizes, said Lyudmila Kamsyuk, deputy director of the Russian Family Planning Association.


But there is some good news. Abortions, the primary means of birth control in Soviet times, are down 27 percent over the last five years, said Kamsyuk.