Russia - Don’t play Russian Roulette with your healthcare

Russia has more physicians, hospitals, and health care workers than almost any other country in the world on a per capita basis, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the health of the Russian population has declined considerably as a result of social, economic, and lifestyle changes. Despite introducing compulsory medical insurance, Russia’s healthcare system is still overly complex and inefficient. Basic healthcare is available for all Russian citizens, whereas visitors to the country will be expected to pay for care. Despite the rather gloomy picture, Russia has made great strides in particular areas of healthcare provision, such as laser eye surgery and heart surgery.

As with most areas of the world, Swine flu is being monitored closely. Recent figures from the Russian Ministry of Health confirm 11,633 cases of swine flu and 600 flu deaths. There are no restrictions on travel relating to Swine flu, but passengers and crew are being monitored on arrival for symptoms of the virus. In addition, visitors should take the necessary precautions against food poisoning, TB and rabies. Tap water quality is very problematic outside of the big cities and, in many cases, inside them too, so visitors should always drink bottled water. Vaccinations against Typhoid, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Hepatitis A & B should be up to date, and precautions should be taken against Japanese Encephalitis and Tick borne Encephalitis. HIV and AIDs is of particular concern in Russia. A UNAIDS/WHO working group estimated that 940,000 adults aged 15 or over in Russia were living with HIV – 1.1% of the adult population.

Visitors and expats are advised to take normal precautions to avoid developing the virus, particularly as it is prevalent amongst a wider variety of social groups and can therefore never be precluded. A more worrying aspect to the Russian healthcare system is the evidence of bribery and corruption. If an individual finds himself with a non-approved healthcare provider or without adequate insurance cover, sub-standard treatment will and can be provided, but only at a cost. With the differing levels of service and quality of care, it is essential that expats and visitors alike have appropriate levels of healthcare protection, together with access to advice on where the nearest hospitals and medical centres are, particularly in the more remote regions of the country. Russia is a vast area covering 17,075,200 sq km, bordering Eastern European countries such as Poland to the West and as far as China to the East. Most expats working within Russia tend to be working in oil and minerals, and are therefore usually based in the more remote regions such as Siberia.

With the right private health insurance, expats working in Moscow and St Petersburg have access to excellent private medical facilities, but for those ‘out in the field’ it is essential they can be airlifted to hospital. Healthcare providers such as April International UK factor this into their policies and so give clients peace of mind whilst working in remote areas in professions such as oil and gas. Debbie Purser, CEO of April International UK said: "Our policies reflect the needs of our customers and so our priority is to give them access to the best hospitals, whether they are working in the major cities or in more remote areas – we can guarantee they will be airlifted to the best facilities available. With the considerable risks attached to healthcare in Russia, visitors and expats are strongly urged to buy adequate provision to avoid a scenario which could potentially be life threatening, extremely expensive or involve treatment well below Western standards.