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The Challenge of Finding a Remedy for Health Care

Published: August 26, 2008 (Issue # 1402)



  • Eight-month-old Alexei Artemikhin recovering from heart failure in a hospital in the Kirov region.?
    Photo: Country of Dmitry Sedykin

MOSCOW When anesthesiologist Dmitry Sedykh was called to treat an 8-month-old suffering from heart failure this May, he found no equipment to resuscitate the baby boy.

Sedykh, the only anesthesiologist in the village of Lesnoye in the Kirov region, was summoned to the childrens ward of the local hospital to help little Alexei Artemikhin, who was in critical condition because of severe pneumonia.

The boy needed oxygen, but the hospital had no oxygen concentrator, a device used to provide oxygen therapy to patients. Like many small, rural hospitals, this one also lacked a centralized system in which oxygen is shipped through pipes. The hospital did have compressed oxygen in tanks, but because of the decrepit condition of the childrens ward, fire inspectors had banned them from being used there.

All Sedykh could find was an antiquated oxygen pillow, a rubberized sac filled with oxygen from a tank. The oxygen passes from the pillow through a plastic pipe to a humidifier, where a nasal catheter then feeds it to the lungs.

But there was not even a catheter to carry oxygen from the pillow to the babys lungs. Do you think I am a magician? Sedykh said by telephone from Lesnoye.

Sedykh took an adult oxygen mask and somehow adapted it to the babys face. To humidify the oxygen, he filled a 20-gram syringe with wet cotton, placed it between the plastic pipe and the mask. After pumping the pillow with his hands for a few minutes, he saw the boys checks take on a rosy glow. Sedykh called for a nurse.

I told her, Keep pumping this pillow. Maybe well be able to take the boy to the district hospital tomorrow, he said.

The boy needed a new pillow every 20 minutes. Nurses scurried in and out of the room as they filled pillows with oxygen from the tanks in the adult ward. The process continued day and night for a week before Alexei was finally transported to the larger district hospital in the town of Kirs.

Inventive medical treatments are just the tip of the iceberg of the health care crisis facing Russia. The country ranks a lowly 130th in terms of the effectiveness of its health care system and 127th in terms of its populations health, according to the World Health Organization. This means that the country is not only considerably behind developed Western countries but also the majority of East European and Latin American countries with a similar level of economic development.

At the same time, Russians tend to fall ill much more often than Europeans. In fact, Russians are 30 percent more likely to get sick than Europeans, according to WHO figures.

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