Last month protestors marched up and down Moscow streets demanding affordable medicine (dostupnaya meditsina), marking the first medical protest against a set of proposed health-care reforms in Moscow. What are these reforms and why have they gained the ire of so many people? What do they mean for the Putin regime in the context of Russia’s healthcare woes? Could this prove to be a blackspot on Putin’s popularity?
The controversy began in October of 2014. Russia’s healthcare net unexpectedly leaked the news that 28 hospitals and clinics were set to lay off thousands of medical personnel. The government’s justification was that the mass layoffs would optimize the system’s structure. Despite the backlash, Moscow’s doctors were ordered to participate in a new planning process behind closed doors, triggering protests that the employees who worked in these institutions were not included in the discussion. Even after the initial protests the exact characteristics of the proposed reforms were not released to the public.
News of these layoffs could not have come at a worse time. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia’s healthcare system has only gotten worse with each passing year. And even though Putin has vowed to fix it, specifics have never really been given to people wanting change. Even though the “May Decrees” of 2012 put Russia’s healthcare in accordance with the World Health Organization, many people were not pleased. According to news sources in the Moscow Times, laying off workers isn’t the answer. In most hospitals and clinics, doctors have to resort to using outdated medical equipment; many patients lie on gurneys in the halls, and the idea of preventative medicine is a luxury at best. There are even stories of patients diagnosed with cancer who decide to kill themselves because they knew full well that they will not be given the care they need.
Whether or not this will undermine Putin’s regime is unknown. In Putin’s State of the Nation address he backtracked on the issue of healthcare, stating that further deliberation is needed. It seems that healthcare may continue to be a constant thorn in Putin’s side until hardships are alleviated.