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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Approves 4-Year Child Health Plan

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a new four-year program called the Children of Russia, which calls for directing hundreds of millions of dollars toward improving child health and combatting the social ills of neglected and abandoned children and juvenile crime.

The program also addresses the needs of the gifted and disabled.

"This is a priority topic for the government," Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in his opening remarks at the Cabinet meeting.

The program presumes that 6.7 billion rubles (about $200 million) will be allocated from the federal budget from 2003 to 2006, including 1.5 billion rubles (about $47 million) next year. Local budgets are supposed to contribute double the sum, or 13.4 billion rubles over the four years.

The document -- the fourth such program in post-communist Russia -- is a result of months of bureaucratic activity since President Vladimir Putin raised the issue of homeless children in January and ordered Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko to draw up proposals for a solution.

Some aspects of the program spelled out Tuesday appear to take into account criticism of the government's approach expressed earlier this year by child care specialists. For instance, for the first time the program includes a chapter on health.

"We have seen how the number of sick children is going up and the number of healthy children is going down," Deputy Health Minister Olga Sharapova said in a telephone interview. "For the first time we have managed to convince the government we can no longer live like this, that we have to think about Russia's health."

Sharapova said 160 million rubles will be spent next year on building, renovating and equipping prenatal care institutions, maternity hospitals and pediatric clinics.

A special emphasis will be placed on providing intensive care for newborns, 10,000 of whom now die every year because of a lack of equipment, she said.

Almost as much, 158 million rubles, will be spent on restoring a system of medical monitoring and care at schools, and on providing subsidized food to children.

Deputy Labor and Social Development Minister Galina Karelova, one of the government officials in charge of the program, said better coordination is needed among the ministries, particularly in regard to abandoned children.

"The situation requires a systematic approach -- something it has lacked before," Karelova said by telephone. As a part of the effort, a unified national database on troubled children is to be compiled by the end of the year, she said.

Addressing child welfare workers' criticism of the government's approach to runaway children, Karelova said the emphasis has now been shifted from construction of orphanages to encouraging a system of foster families and adoption.

Funds on preventing child homelessness will be tripled, she said.

The government also plans to double spending on gifted children. While in the past the government's efforts were limited to national competitions, the new program foresees the creation of a center to educate gifted children in each of the federal districts.