Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

Russia: Aspiring to Third World Standards

In the last post, we showed how aberrant Russian mortality trends have been over the last decade and a half, resulting in almost 6.6 million “excess deaths” against the hardly exacting benchmark of Soviet-era survival schedules. This time, we’ll show you that this country is really an outlier today in global health.

First off: heart disease. In 2005, Russian cardiovascular disease (CVD) levels were almost four times as high as those in Western Europe. While the rest of the former Communist bloc slowly began to converge with the “old EU,” Russia decided to follow the Sinatra Doctrine (“I did it my way”). Normally, CVD is a “disease of affluence.” That is, as countries become richer, their CVD rates go up, but then with continued increases in income and corresponding investments in healthcare and prevention, these rates begin to decrease once again.

And then there is Russia—the country is literally in a league of its own. See the figure below—Russia’s CVD levels are twice as high as would be predicted by its income level.
But chronic disease is just the beginning. Let’s consider “external causes” of death such as injury or poisoning. In 2006, Russian death rates from external causes were almost three times higher than those states of the former Soviet bloc that joined the European Union in 2002. How does that compare with the world? Well, in 2002, only six countries had death rates from external causes higher than 200 deaths per 100,000 people. Guess which was one of them? And just look in the next graph at the company it keeps. By these metrics, Russia’s health situation isn’t third world—it’s fourth world.


Next time, we will take a look back at the last four decades to see how Russian health standards have regressed—and how the country’s domestic health investments do little to explain this phenomenon.

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