Current Events Health Care in Developing Nations

Population Growth: U.S. versus Russia

In Sunday’s L.A. Times I found two articles regarding population growth.  The first (“America at 300 million“) notes that although the U.S. is nearing 300 million people, there is plenty of space available for these newcomers.  Although the birth rate is still not at replacement, the recent increase in immigration has allowed the U.S. to maintain steady population growth.  The article notes that “Today, about 12% of Americans are foreign-born, versus about 5% when the country had 200 million people.”

This is juxtaposed with an article in the main news section which documents population trends in another country with an abundance of land: Russia.  While the U.S. is growing, the Russian population is experiencing a drastic decline (“A Dying Population“).  Part of this trend is due to emigration.  Part of this trend is from higher mortality.  Forty eight percent of Russians die between the ages of 15 and 60 compared to only 13.7% of Americans.    According to the CIA world factbook, Russian life expectancy ranks below Morocco, Honduras, North Korea and Algeria and just ahead of Kazakhstan, East Timor, and Trinidad and Tobago.  AIDS is also a major problem:

“Officially, more than 300,000 Russians are infected with HIV or have AIDS, but the U.N. says the number could easily be much higher.  The problem is not as serious as Africa’s. The difference, experts say, is that African birthrates are high enough to replace those who die. Not so in Russia.  Compounding the problem, the prevalence of AIDS among young people threatens to add to the population decline by killing them before they can bring a new generation into the world…Five million to 10 million Russian teenagers could contract the disease within a few years, federal health officials say.”

There are two other major causes for a low life expectancy: alcohol abuse and income inequality. 

“The average Russian drinks five gallons of pure alcohol a year, causing an estimated 900,000 deaths over the last decade from acute alcohol poisoning, fights and accidents, according to figures released by Tatyana Yakovleva, head of the Russian parliament’s healthcare committee.”

The article also notes that although Russia has the second highest concentration of billionaires in the world, one fifth of Russians live on less than $38/month.  Russia ranks behind Libya, Chile, and Costa Rica in terms of GDP per capita

Today’s L.A. Times looks at the poor state of Russia’s health care system (“For the sick, no place to turn“).  Health care is nominally free, but in practice patients must pay hefty bribes in order to receive any more than basic medical services.  Former Soviet industrial areas, such as Karabash, are heavily polluted with chemical and radiation leaks.  Russia has at least 120,000 new tuberculosis cases each year.  Since physicians are using mostly outdated equipment (except for the modern medical centers which cater exclusively to the wealthy), technological progress in the medical field is not keeping up with the West.