October 4, 2008

BARE TRUTH:

Behind the Bluster, Russia Is Collapsing (Murray Feshbach, October 5, 2008, Washington Post)

Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. [...]

According to U.N. figures, the average life expectancy for a Russian man is 59 years -- putting the country at about 166th place in the world longevity sweepstakes, one notch above Gambia. For women, the picture is somewhat rosier: They can expect to live, on average, 73 years, barely beating out the Moldovans. But there are still some 126 countries where they could expect to live longer. And the gap between expected longevity for men and for women -- 14 years -- is the largest in the developed world.

So what's killing the Russians? All the usual suspects -- HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, alcoholism, cancer, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, suicides, smoking, traffic accidents -- but they occur in alarmingly large numbers, and Moscow has neither the resources nor the will to stem the tide. Consider this:

Three times as many Russians die from heart-related illnesses as do Americans or Europeans, per each 100,000 people.

Tuberculosis deaths in Russia are about triple the World Health Organization's definition of an epidemic, which is based on a new-case rate of 50 cases per 100,000 people.

Average alcohol consumption per capita is double the rate the WHO considers dangerous to one's health.

About 1 million people in Russia have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, according to WHO estimates.

Using mid-year figures, it's estimated that 25 percent more new HIV/AIDS cases will be recorded this year than were logged in 2007.

And none of this is likely to get better any time soon. Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency created in response to the epidemic, told a press conference this summer that he is "very pessimistic about what is going on in Russia and Eastern Europe . . . where there is the least progress." This should be all the more worrisome because young people are most at risk in Russia. In the United States and Western Europe, 70 percent of those with HIV/AIDS are men over age 30; in Russia, 80 percent of this group are aged 15 to 29. And although injected-drug users represent about 65 percent of Russia's cases, the country has officially rejected methadone as a treatment, even though it would likely reduce the potential for HIV infections that lead to AIDS.

And then there's tuberculosis -- remember tuberculosis? In the United States, with a population of 303 million, 650 people died of the disease in 2007. In Russia, which has a total of 142 million people, an astonishing 24,000 of them died of tuberculosis in 2007. Can it possibly be coincidental that, according to Gennady Onishchenko, the country's chief public health physician, only 9 percent of Russian TB hospitals meet current hygienic standards, 21 percent lack either hot or cold running water, 11 percent lack a sewer system, and 20 percent have a shortage of TB drugs? Hardly.

On the other end of the lifeline, the news isn't much better. Russia's birth rate has been declining for more than a decade, and even a recent increase in births will be limited by the fact that the number of women age 20 to 29 (those responsible for two-thirds of all babies) will drop markedly in the next four or five years to mirror the 50 percent drop in the birth rate in the late 1980s and the 1990s. And, sadly, the health of Russia's newborns is quite poor, with about 70 percent of them experiencing complications at birth.


It's not just that Russia and China are imploding demographically but the low level from which they're declining: while Japan's descent is occurring from a point at which GDP per capita is $33,500, Russia's is $14,800, and China's $5,400.

N.B.: In the United States the poverty level for an individual is $10,590 (GDP per capita: $45,800).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 4, 2008 9:59 AM
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