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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NGOs Starting to Make An Impact on the State

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It has become standard for the West to criticize the Russia's treatment of nongovernmental organizations operating in the country. They are consistently portrayed as victims of government pressure, while the government is seen as unresponsive to society's concerns.

I do not know if this is accurate, but it certainly wasn't the sense that I got last week after attending a meeting of the public advisory council of the Federal Health and Social Development Inspection Service.

The service oversees public health programs worth several billion dollars a year, including the drug reimbursement programs that affect the lives of millions of people who are eligible for drug benefits. Some of those programs became subjects of heated controversy after patients across the country suffered drug shortages in 2005 and 2006.

As a result of this crisis, the Federal Health and Social Development Inspection Service, headed by Nikolai Yurgel, decided to work closely with patients' groups to collect information on how people in the regions were getting their medicines. It set up a public advisory council made of advocacy groups who represent patients with hemophilia, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and people with organ transplants and other serious ailments. The council serves as a clearinghouse where NGOs and government officials exchange information on what should be done to ensure that all patients in need of medicine get their treatment in time. The service agreed to work closely with NGOs and patients' groups to collect information about drug supply disruption and ensure speedy resolution of individual complaints.

Last week, I participated in a meeting with Urgel, his deputy Yelena Telnova and 15 NGOs. Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova sent her top aides to the meeting, and a representative from the Kremlin was also present.

The dialogue was tough but constructive. The patients' groups identified cases where free drugs were still denied to those in need. Government officials were quick to intervene.

Some NGOs at the meeting sounded quite positive. Yevgeny Zhulyov of the Russian Hemophilia Society reported that progress with free drug coverage was significant. In 2005, government purchases of hemophilia drugs totaled just over 1 billion rubles. In 2008 -- 9.3 billion rubles. In St. Petersburg last week, Ilyona Vasilyeva of the Movement Against Cancer found local officials willing to help after she briefed them on problems with drugs for breast cancer patients.

Russian NGOs are starting to make an impact on public policy. Slowly, but surely.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.