Russian Regions Lack Resources To Deal With The Coronavirus

Apr 23, 2020
Originally published on April 23, 2020 9:27 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Russia now, where the country reported more than 4,700 new cases of the coronavirus today. The total number of suspected infections is now more than 62,000.

Moscow is still the epicenter of the outbreak, but now infection is spreading to the rest of that vast country, where health systems will struggle to cope. NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Just over a week ago, ambulances in Moscow were backed up for hours outside local hospitals waiting to deliver COVID-19 patients to the city's infection wards.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: The long line, shared on social media, horrified city residents. But Andrei Konoval had a different reaction - how lucky Muscovites are.

ANDREI KONOVAL: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: The head of Deistvie, a union of medical workers in Russia's regions, Konoval says a lot of towns in the rest of Russia have one, maybe two understaffed and under-equipped ambulances, a result of years of cutbacks and poorly conceived reforms. And this was before the coronavirus epidemic.

KONOVAL: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Just imagine what happens when the medical crews get sick or exposed to the coronavirus and have to quarantine, says Konoval. Then there'll be no ambulance service at all.

KONOVAL: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Until now, the COVID-19 outbreak has been centered in Moscow, but so are resources to combat it. And now that the virus is spreading to the rest of Russia, regional health care workers are wondering how much help is on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: In St. Petersburg, Russia's second city, medical staff sent out a video appeal for protective gear to care for COVID patients.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: While in Krasnodar, a key city in the south, a local official was caught berating doctors for not sewing their own medical boots. Meanwhile, staff at several regional hospitals in places like Chelyabinsk, Ufa and Syvtyvkar have been forced to stay locked in their hospitals while the virus flares among patients and staff. But some argue it's not all bad news.

PAVEL BRAND: In Russia, we have different system of medicine. It's very old, and doctors are not so gentle as in the U.S.A., you know?

MAYNES: Pavel Brand is the chief doctor of a network of clinics in Moscow. Brand argues this old and not-so-gentle approach was pioneered in the Soviet Union, and that's a good thing.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: As this old Soviet documentary shows, health care was designed to treat mass casualties from, say, tuberculosis...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: ...Or later, a possible biological or nuclear attack from the U.S. It was the Cold War, after all. And Brand says aspects of this Soviet mobilized approach are still in place. Yeah, the paint is peeling off these oversized hospitals, and, yes, they're probably not a first choice for surgery, but to treat masses of COVID-19 patients, Brand says you could do a lot worse.

BRAND: For the epidemic, we don't need very good doctors and very good machines and so on. We need only a lot of beds and ventilators. We have them.

MAYNES: It's a tough, Russian approach. It also passes for a Russian silver lining in otherwise dark times.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow.

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