‘They will die’ – Putin attacked for putting ‘politics before lives’ of ordinary Russians

Many Russian medical institutions, particularly in the regions, face a chronic and catastrophic shortage of basic medical supplies, such as protective clothing and masks as well as medicines and ventilators. Despite this, Russia delivered 600 ventilators to Italy in March as well as 60 tons of medical supplies to the US in early April, which included ventilators, masks, respirators and protective equipment. Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva, a former ophthalmologist and a founding member of the Doctors’ Alliance trade union, told Express.co.uk: “We are really suffering from this lack of equipment and protection, medical staff.

“But for Putin and his government it is much more important to make his political ambitions – his political ambitions are really in first place, over the health of the Russian population.”

She added: “Everybody in Russia is discussing this situation and this sending of equipment to the USA and Italy.

“Of course, it is a very good step, idea to supply our friends and other countries but it will – I think it will be okay when we have enough, but not when people are sewing masks and people are dying without equipment.

“I really don’t have enough words to describe my anger and that of others at what they are doing.”

Her comments come as the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections rose to 87,127 cases on Monday, exceeding those in China. According to state statistics 794 have now died from the lethal virus.

Earlier this month in a videoconference, Putin addressed the worsening situation in Russia.

He said: “We have a lot of problems.

“There is nothing to boast about, and we must not let our guard down, because in general, as you and we have not passed the peak of the epidemic yet.”

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The gravity of the situation faced by Russian hospitals in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic is clearly spelt out in a government document seen by this website.

In an assessment of the problems facing the healthcare system in Russia’s regions, the Ministry of Emergencies wrote that “there was an acute shortage” of ventilators, with hospitals told that they would have to wait anywhere between two to six months for orders to be delivered.

In one instance the Tomsk region was told by the Ministry of Industry and Trade that “there is no medical equipment and there is no production capacity yet”.

Other regional authorities were informed that they would have to wait up to three months for the delivery of supplies of personal protective clothing.

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Ms Vasilyeva said: “So that’s why we can now understand that the healthcare system is now in a very difficult situation and doctors and medical staff – what can they do without equipment?

“What can they do without protection? They will be ill and die.

“They are now fighting fire without any protection. So the situation is very, very difficult, very terrible.”

The Doctors’ Alliance Union has been trying to fill the void left by the Russian government.

In recent weeks the organisation has collected donations from the public to buy essential supplies for beleaguered medical institutions around the country.

Yet attempts to deliver this humanitarian aid have been hampered and obstructed by the Russian authorities.

Ms Vasilyeva was arrested and reportedly knocked unconscious by police, when trying to deliver supplies of protective clothing to a hospital in the town of Okulovka in the Novgorod region on April 2.

She was detained overnight without any access to a lawyer, before being released the next day.

The shortage of vital medical equipment is compounded by the general crisis that is faced by the Russian healthcare system under the Putin administration, which spends just three percent of GDP on its health service. By way of comparison, most western European countries invest around 9 percent of GDP in the health sector.

The Russian government has been pursuing a so-called “optimisation” programme of medical services, which has led to substantial cutbacks and the supressing of wages for doctors and nurses.

In one of his pledges during the 2012 presidential elections, Putin promised to double and even triple doctors’ salaries, something he has spectacularly failed to deliver on.

Russian doctors working in state hospitals earn on average around just £520 a month according to surveys by medical unions, and often work long unpaid overtime hours, while ambulance drivers and nurses can earn as little as £100 a month.

As a result of the low wages and working conditions, every year some 10 percent of doctors leave the healthcare profession, which has led to a shortage of more than 25,000 medical staff, with the regions often worse off.

The hospital in Okulovka used to have up until recently four surgeons, but now has just one in 60-year-old Yuri Korovin and is a classic example of the situation faced by provincial hospitals in Russia’s vast hinterland.

Last year, Mr Korovin told activists that there were no medicines at the hospital and that “patients have to bring their own sheets”.

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