Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Child Death Rates Reach 60,000 in '99

According to pediatricians, nearly 60,000 Russian children died last year, the combined result of high rates of infant mortality, birth defects and accidents.

The number could have been much lower, doctors say, if children had timely access to proper medical care.

Even though the mortality rate among Russians age 17 and younger is growing less dramatically than that of the country's adult population, facts like the 1999 statistics are reason for concern, said Professor Alexander Baranov, head of the Russian Pediatrician's Union, which met this week in Moscow for its sixth annual congress.

"For Russia, the problem [of the high number of children's deaths] is especially acute, because we have a sharp decline in the overall population that makes the life of each child more valuable than it is in other countries, like China, for example," Baranov said Monday.

With deaths outnumbering births and immigration to Russia decreasing, the country's already shrinking population took its largest-ever post-Soviet plunge in 1999, dropping by 0.49 percent or 716,900.

Baranov said that of the total number of children's deaths, infant mortality - death that occurs during the first year of life - accounts for some 30 percent; accidents, including outdoor injuries and poisoning, account for another 30 percent. The remaining 40 percent, he said, include a number of causes ranging from teenage suicide and drug abuse to illnesses, misdiagnoses, medical negligence and murder.

Statistics also vary from region to region, with more deaths registered in the North Caucasus region and the remote Siberian regions of Altai and Tuva, Baranov said.

Nikolai Vaganov, chief doctor at Russia's biggest pediatric medical center, the Republican Children's Hospital located in Moscow, said prenatal disease, birth defects and accidents top the list of causes of children's mortality in Russia.

"Those are the three main causes weakening our country's population potential," said Vaganov, who together with some 2,000 other pediatricians from throughout Russia attended this week's four-day congress, dedicated this year to examining emergency care for children.

Vaganov said the number of infants who die in the first weeks of life is relatively high in Russia because fewer women have access to prenatal care here than in the West.

The number of infants and older children dying from birth defects could also be lowered if adequate treatment was made available in cities across Russia and not only in Moscow.

Thousands of Russian parents are forced to travel with their sick children to the capital city, which is often the only place in the country where advanced treatment for birth defects can be found, he added.

Medical treatment - including even the most expensive and sophisticated surgical procedures - remain free in Russia, but waiting lines can last months and years, and children often die before their turn arrives.

"Every year in Russia, 6,500 babies are born with heart defects, most of them requiring surgery," Vaganov said. "Meanwhile, last year, only some 300 children actually underwent surgery."

Another leading cause of deaths, accidents, typically occur in children over 5, the age when many children begin being left by themselves, Vaganov said.

Baranov said the number of children who die at home without receiving medical care has doubled over the past five years, adding that such deaths occur when doctors make bad diagnoses or fail to insist upon hospitalization, thinking their young patients' symptoms are not sufficiently serious.

The fact that parents often avoid calling for medical help - mistaking serious illnesses for simple colds - also contributes to the problem, Baranov said.

Flyura Akhmerova, who traveled to the congress from Naberezhniye Chelny in Tatarstan, where she has been treating children for more than 45 years, said the worst problem she and her colleagues face in their work is the lack of proper diagnostic equipment.

"Modern equipment is basically all we need to be able to treat children and feel confident that we are doing everything right," Akhmerova said.