Healtcare workers in BelarusBelarus’ health system is simultaneously advancing and posing challenges to its health personal. These challenges directly impact the quality and availability of medical services to Belarusian individuals. That said, current situations regarding the government and health sector could affect future outlooks both for patients and healthcare workers in Belarus.

Healthcare in Belarus

Belarus offers universal healthcare. This means that most of its population can access many free health services. In fact, citizens of neighboring countries like Russia seek Belarusian medical care because of its affordability. This is just one way Belarus’ health industry is supportive. Over the past decade, many beneficial healthcare feats happened through the efforts of the government and medical workers. The country met Millennium Goals in 2013, per the World Health Organization (WHO), by lowering maternal and child mortality rates. It implemented new technologies and health institutions and built the first long-term care facility for people with chronic illness and disability in 2015. Furthermore, the health sector achieved positive outcomes with addressing HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and child immunizations.

Clearly, without healthcare workers in Belarus, none of this growth would be possible. For example, Belarus had some of the highest numbers of physicians and nurses access to the population compared to other post-Soviet countries, according to a WHO report. It also cited a surplus of nursing students assisting patients. Incentives for health institutions to increase highly trained staff ensure more medical development and career advancements. Though such incentives display Belarus’ value of qualified medical personal and although they are present and enacting medical progress, there are considerable obstacles in the livelihoods of many in the health system.

Challenges Healthcare Workers Face

Many health workers from Belarus migrate to Russia to work. Little opportunity for professional advancement, inadequate workplace conditions, poor infrastructure in rural regions and low wages are the main factors driving away medical staff. Belarusian medical workers were increasingly moving from rural to urban regions in 2013, a concern for rural populations. This movement prompted the government to implement compulsory placements in rural populations for some personal to ease rural shortages.

Rural shortages of healthcare workers in Belarus naturally produce spottiness in medical coverage in many regions. Former Health Minister Vasil Zharko stated various cities did not have 30-40% of needed medical staff in 2015. Resultantly, many were not able to attain a doctor’s appointment due to a lack of qualified doctors and wait times for medical equipment spanned months.

To combat higher concentrations of health staff in large cities and lower concentrations in rural areas, benefits and accommodations are offered as incentives to rural Belarusian health workers. Benefits and accommodations are likely welcome given the low salaries of Belarusian medical staff. Health workers in Poland earned three times as much as Belarusian counterparts in 2015 and many worked 1.5 full-time jobs to earn money.

Current and Future Realities

These achievements and challenges in Belarus’ health system shape reality for all working within it. Accordingly, various current events shape their future. COVID-19’s emergence into the country did not immediately bring significant change. President Aleksandr Lukashenko initially opted not to impose restrictions against the virus. Furthermore, he claimed it could be treated by trips to the sauna and vodka. This plus his political actions regarding the 2020 election angered many, inciting protests against his presidency and policies. Medical workers were not exempt from this.

In late 2020 in Minsk, Belarus, many participated in the March of Pensioners and Healthcare Workers every Monday. They marched for President Lukashenko’s removal, a transparent election and the release of political prisoners. Another response from health personnel occurred in August 2020, when health workers and others organized at the Ministry of Health to speak with Health Minister Vladimir Karanik. Additionally, many advocated on social media for doctors to go on strike. Health staff likely participated in these events hoping to change the country’s political and health-centered futures for themselves and their patients. Current circumstances indicate the future might already be getting better.

Looking Forward

In 2021 healthcare spending in Belarus will sit at around 4.6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), increasing over the last five years. The government plans to add to funding to keep raising salaries. The government decided to raise the standard salary rate, beginning with raising the salaries of those with low wages. Furthermore, it increased spending on scholarships and allowances in health in 2021. Considering health workers’ calls for political shifts and an increase in monetary support for Belarusian medical personal in the immediate future, it is safe to say that greater prioritization and change is on the horizon in the lives of healthcare workers in Belarus.

– Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Belarus Welcomes in Democracy and Human RightsThe country of Belarus is both physically and politically stuck between Russia and Western Europe, who have been at odds for the past several years. Currently, Belarus is in the wake of recent political protests and social unrest. Additionally, the country is reaching a tipping point and the people are demanding change. The first step is the introduction of a new democracy and human rights bill in the U.S. Congress.

The Presidential Election

Belarus’s current president is Alexander Lukashenko, a man given the nickname of “Europe’s Last Dictator.” In August 2020, a presidential election was held and a high majority of the country’s population claims that the election was entirely fixed. Lukashenko won in a landslide victory and claimed his 26th straight year as Belarus’s leader. Consequently, massive waves of political protest immediately followed the election. It demonstrates a demand for the president’s removal of office. Lukashenko showed no indication of planning to resign. Vladimir Putin politically supports Lukashenko. However, there is strong evidence that suggests that Putin’s support comes from the worry of a potential social rebellion of the Belarusian people. As a result of the social outcry, protestors and police forces have violently clashed.

The election in August created a chain reaction of historical change for the country. Belarus’s citizens have a history of being private about their personal political opinions. Nevertheless, the severity of this matter encourages people to break their silence. This social upheaval brought with it an extreme push back from law enforcement in the result of above 7,000 arrests of political demonstrators within seven days after the election. In addition, these arrests include accusations of extreme abuse and the disappearances of inmates. This has gained the attention of the U.N. Like everywhere else, Belarus also has significant cases of COVID-19. In response, the U.N. put $7.5 million toward medical aid and spread prevention. Furthermore, basic universal human rights now become one of the main focuses of Belarus’ and the U.N.’s plan for positive reform.

A Democracy Bill

In October 2020, a team of U.S. politicians introduced a proposed plan of solution for the situation in Belarus. It proposed The Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020. This act would grant the U.S. an opportunity to help introduce democracy to the people of Belarus. In a recent press release from The Committee On Foreign Affairs, each house member who supports the Act explains their reasons for supporting the bill.

Moreover, one of the most notable quotes came from Republican Leader Rep. McCaul. He said, “We stand with the historic numbers of peaceful Belarusian protesters that continue to flood the streets to demand a more democratic country. Their voices must be heard and the Belarusian authorities using violence, arbitrary detentions, and repression in an attempt to stifle their calls to chart their own future must be held accountable.” He went on to clarify that Lukashenko’s victory would not be considered legitimate by the United States.

Basic human rights belong to every person, no matter their geographical location or political situation. This serves as a reminder that not every country shares the same rights globally. The introduction of democracy and freedom is an important piece to the puzzle of trying to make circumstances better for a nation and its people.

Brandon Baham

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Belarus
The eastern European country of Belarus is a hub for human trafficking. In fact, the country ranks as Tier 3 for human trafficking according to the U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, signifying a dire need for improvement going forward. Belarus’ Tier 3 status makes it one of the worst places for human trafficking in the world, despite its consistently slowing rate. Here is some information about efforts to eradicate human trafficking in Belarus.

The Situation

Belarus recorded 128 confirmed trafficking victims and nine potential victims in the Trafficking in Persons report for 2020. Meanwhile, data that NGOs compiled in 2019 has indicated that 91 identified victims comprised of 58 men and 33 women. While victims exist within Belarus, they also exist outside of Belarus’ borders as the traffickers export men for forced labor to Russia and women for sex work to western Europe. Of the 91 victims, 52 experienced exploitation in Russia.

At the moment, human trafficking predominantly affects men in Belarus by way of labor exploitation. In particular, it is common for Belarusian men to find themselves enslaved in Dagestani brick factories. Forced labor also takes place in Belarus through state-sponsored programs called “subbotniks.” These governmental programs force factory workers, civil workers and students to work on farms and clean streets, and anyone who resists experiences threats and intimidation.

Regarding trafficking rates, although they have declined throughout recent years, it would be a mistake to assume that Belarus has solved the problem as it still has a Tier 3 ranking through the U.S. State Department. The people most susceptible to falling victim to human trafficking in Belarus are women from poor families and men from small towns and villages.

Potential Solutions

In terms of where to improve, one of the most direct courses of action that Belarus can take against human trafficking is to put a stop to all subbotniks. State-sponsored forced labor poses a substantial barrier for any country wanting to seriously tackle human trafficking. Additionally, putting an end to subbotniks will help Belarus achieve a better rating from the U.S. State Department. A more broad way to eradicate human trafficking in Belarus would be to minimize poverty in the country. Since many of the people who fall victim to trafficking live in poverty, increased financial stability for those in poverty could provide alternative opportunities for them to escape it and create a recruiting challenge for traffickers.

Unfortunately, Belarus has seen heightened civil unrest and economic displeasure amongst the people under President Alexander Lukashenko’s leadership, specifically regarding stagnating wages and a lack of opportunities to earn more. Belarusian leadership should properly address these grievances in order to help elevate the peoples’ standard of living. Moreover, Belarus’ rural communities should have a specific focus on reducing poverty as they are dramatically poorer than their urban counterparts. Despite the fact that Belarus is one of Europe’s least impoverished countries, rural areas have poverty rates as high as 45.6%. With this in mind, it is essential that programs such as USAID’s Increasing Access to Finance for the Rural Population in Belarus continue in order to further help Belarus’ rural population.

La Strada

NGOs such as La Strada are also doing great work in Belarus to prevent human trafficking. La Strada lobbies, provides resources for victims, grants education for the purpose of prevention and conducts media operations to raise awareness about trafficking.

Crisis Rooms

Crisis rooms are an important part of the victim rehabilitation process and Belarus currently has 136 of them. They are places of temporary residence for trafficking victims which provide protection and resources at no cost to the victims. Belarus needs more rooms, as well as an improvement in the government-run crisis rooms. Most victims try to find private crisis rooms due to public crisis rooms being poorly equipped and short on qualified caregivers. Improving both the quantity and quality of government-run crisis rooms could provide a more accessible and healthy rehabilitation for human trafficking victims.

Belarus’ Efforts

Belarus has continually strengthened its efforts to eradicate human trafficking in Belarus. These efforts have come in the form of increased police training, substantial prison sentences for offenders and more victim protection and rehabilitation resources. The government has rolled out a national action plan which is in place to protect minors from the dangers of sex trafficking. Also, the Belarusian government, with the help of NGOs, has run a large public awareness campaign that utilizes television, radio, print media and billboards. Furthermore, La Strada set up a hotline in 2001 which people can use to help prevent trafficking by identifying illegal recruiting practices and assisting with safe travel for migrant workers.

Ultimately, Belarus has made considerable progress over the past few years in reducing rates of trafficking, but as its Tier 3 designation suggests, it still has considerable progress to make. The next steps Belarus could take would be to end subbotniks, provide assistance to NGOs and ease the difficult political, social and economic circumstances of its people. Economic disparity is a growing concern in Belarus and the implementation of programs such as USAID’s Increasing Access to Finance for the Rural Population in Belarus are crucial to mitigating disparity since poverty is conducive to human trafficking.

– Sean Kenney
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in Belarus
The Eastern European post-Soviet state of Belarus has had a tumultuous, bumpy ride in the last 30 years. A long-treasured satellite of the Soviet Union for almost the entirety of the 20th century forced the country to adopt massive changes when it broke off from the Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991. Since then, one man has ruled this small country with an iron grip. Alexander Lukashenko has been a dictator-like figure masquerading in a phony democratic society. He has been drawing social, economic and political policies in Belarus for the last three decades since the fall of the Soviet Union. Though he did reduce poverty according to official government statistics, there has been a high fluctuation in actual figures related to the poverty rate in Belarus since he took office in the early 1990s. Understanding the underlying causes and remedies of this poverty in Belarus is a complex affair, however, it is clear that certain political, economic and social actions have impacted the country in many ways.

Poverty in Belarus

Being one of the poorest countries in the geographical limits of Europe, the inability to properly take care of its citizens hampered Belarus. Showing its signs of instability, the Belarusian system creaked heavily during a brief two-year recession during 2015-2016. Within a matter of months, the share of the population living below the poverty line increased by three percentage points while in rural areas that number doubled. This fluctuation shows an economy and political system that is not yet resilient to normal market pressures. Additionally, according to a UNDP report, Belarus ranked in the bottom third in countries on the metric “socioeconomic sustainability” which predicts the longer-term impact of economic growth factors and the sustainability of economic output.

Compounding this dilemma, a comprehensive study concluded that much of Belarus’ economic growth in the past 20 years is quite vulnerable, citing both demographic concerns about aging and continuous reforms in the utility sector, which employs much of the workforce of the country. The myriad of challenges facing Belarus is not just abstract downstream economic impacts. President Alexander Lukashenko hampers the prosperity of his own citizenry in many ways through his brash leading style and the specific intricate political decisions that impact his citizens.

According to the University of Pennsylvania professor of Eastern European Studies, Mitchell Orenstein, the Lukashenko regime “is certainly repressive. His regime regularly beats peaceful protesters and threatens and imprisons and tortures opposition presidential candidates.” This type of social order is not conducive to finding the best public policy that helps the most people, but rather a closed-off system that is resistant to change–which is important when advancing important economic interests that lift people out of poverty in Belarus. Orenstein also notes that many Belurrusians tolerate much of this behavior, as President Lukashenko argues, “Belarus must have a powerful dictator to prevent invasion from outside forces, noting Belarus’s World War II history, and Russia’s desire to undermine Belarusian sovereignty. He also blames NATO for seeking to subdue Belarus.” This provides an underpinning of legitimacy that was successful at holding off dissatisfaction among his people, but as poverty trends stagnate, that dissatisfaction may inevitably boil over.

Improvements in Belarus

Upon examining the raw data, one might come to the conclusion that Belarus has been dealing with its poverty problem quite well since Lukashenko took office. In the year 2000, 41.9% of the population was below the national poverty line while in 2013 that number astoundingly fell 36.2 percentage points to 5.7% below the poverty line in the country. This was due to mass mobilization of the public sector for manufacturing–mainly to fuel the growing Russian economy at the time. Moreover, massive investments from multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank, spurred the production of critical infrastructure all around the country and international investment.

With the 90 million Euro investment from the World Bank in 2019, coupled with numerous other investments like the UNDP project, Belarus is making extraordinary strides in not only fighting poverty but developing and cultivating the systems that attract foreign investment in their country. Moreover, innovative NGOs are tackling every angle of the poverty cycle in the country. Organizations like Ponimanie are fighting to protect children’s rights and ensure positive outcomes for vulnerable groups of children.

This type of organization is crucial for breaking the cycle of poverty and providing opportunities to succeed in disadvantaged communities in the country. In addition, poverty in Belarus has received aid from the fact that Belarus’ main trading partners–like Russia–have experienced an economic boom as well. This reaction sets a favorable sequence into motion that spurs production in its energy and agricultural sectors lifting people out of poverty.

Importantly, while Belarus has made great strides in its ability to fight poverty (as shown by the successful years of positive economic policy and results), many of the trends have leveled off during recent times. Life expectancy, education and GNI per capita all increased dramatically over the course of the first years of the 21st century while then plateauing into the 2010s. This certainly shows progress but also highlights the inability of the Belarussian system to maintain and replicate the growth and prosperity that the country experienced 15 years ago.

While poverty in Belarus is most certainly an ongoing threat, understanding some of the more intricate causes of instability and continued poverty are important for determining the outcome of millions in this Eastern European country in the future.

– Zak Schneider
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Belarus
Belarus is a landlocked Eastern European country that Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia border. Women’s rights in Belarus have a complicated role in society. As of July 2020, Belarus reported a population of 9.4 million, over half of which were females. The 2017 estimated median age for Belarusian women is 43.1, with most falling into the 25-54 age range. The average life expectancy for Belarusian women is 74 years old.

Belarusian law has protected women since the late 16th century, and Belarus continues to celebrate its contributions to society each year on March 8 on International Women’s Day. The nation has signed onto all international documents of gender equality and has been a party to the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 1981.

Yet gender roles in Belarus remain staunchly traditional, largely due to the country’s historically patriarchal culture. This article will provide an overview of women’s rights in Belarus, including their history, current state and areas for improvement.

History of Women’s Movements

Belarus has a rich history of women’s activism. Activists have been fighting for women’s rights in Belarus for over a century. The first women’s advocacy group, the United Belarusian Women’s Committee, formed at the beginning of the 20th century, promoting national revival via the advancement of women’s rights. Several organizations followed its lead, eventually leading to the first women’s political party, Nadzieja, in 1994.

The 1990s were the peak of the women’s movement, however. Though the Belarusian women’s network, an organization connecting women’s rights groups, formed in 2007, it has achieved minimal success; this is largely due to the movement’s struggle to find commonality in their goals and methods of advocacy. As of 2017, women’s organizations compose less than 1.5% of all NGOs in Belarus.

A Different Kind of Movement

The women’s movement is largely non-feminist. Though Belarusian women’s groups are largely unsuccessful due to their disorganization, it is important to note that these organizations generally do not focus on the advancement of women’s social and political rights. Belarusians instead emphasize women’s unique role as mothers, housekeepers and wives; they seek to protect and honor women in these traditional roles. As a result, most of these organizations have the prevention of violence against women as a top priority.

Tacciana Karatkievič, Belarus’s first female presidential candidate, is emblematic of these cultural values. Even as a public political figure, she adopted a ‘motherly’ persona rather than promoting gender equality.

In Business and Politics

Women remain underrepresented in business and politics.  A significant wage gap remains between the sexes. In 2016, the average salary of Belarusian women was 25% lower than men, and women only occupied 23% of high academic positions. In the 2017 rating of the best business people in Belarus, only seven out of 200 were women. Women are similarly a minority in politics, where, although about 30% of parliament members are female, there are little to no female chairpersons, administrators and deputies. This underrepresentation has consequences: according to an Internet survey of 1,519 women, 90% face discrimination at the workplace. Very few organizations are working to rectify these issues, however.

Women led the 2020 protests. Belarus made international headlines in 2020 for its massive protests against the contested reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko, which many believe was rigged. Women have a leading role in the movement, speaking out against Lukashenko’s past comments about women, which many consider sexist. These activists, distinctive in white dresses at rallies and demonstrations, also have voiced frustration about the constant harassment Belarusian women are subject to.

The Road Ahead

NGOs are fighting for change. Although fragmented, numerous NGOs exist that are advocating for women’s rights in Belarus. For example, the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Belarus works to create new jobs in sustainable development and green energy specifically for women so that they are equally represented in the workforce. TUNDP Belarus earned the UNDP Equality Bronze Seal in 2015 for its successful strides toward greater gender equality. One successful UNDP initiative is its establishment of a system for collecting sex-disaggregated data to monitor and reduce HIV prevalence.

The Karat Coalition for Gender Equality began in February 2014 and has been working to have Belarusian law explicitly ensure women’s human rights. Karat has laid the groundwork for more comprehensive laws protecting women. It is currently working on a Belarusian draft law on gender equality, which it has received positive feedback on from the Belarusian government. This is a promising step that indicates greater equality in the law in the near future.

The Center for the Promotion of Women’s Rights—Her Rights is another Belarusian NGO that provides free and confidential help for women who experience gender-based violence and discrimination, especially domestic violence. The group helps at least 20 women each month escape unsafe homes and work environments.

The results of Belarus’s current social unrest are yet to emerge. But there is reason to believe that women’s rights in Belarus may finally begin to become a priority. The successful ventures of small, citizen-led groups indicate that the fight for Belarusian gender equality, though slow-moving, is leading to societal change.

Abby Tarwater
Photo: Flickr

effect on educationFor years, Lebanon has been a great place to go to school. In math and science education, the country of Lebanon ranks fourth in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. The explosion that occurred on August 4th, 2020, however, destroyed about 120 public and private schools in Beirut. The obstruction of schools will inevitably result in the obstruction of the Lebanese right to education and upwards movement in society. This article analyzes the blast’s effect on education, and how a lack of education resources in Beirut may lead to further concerns of poverty.

The Explosion

A lethal blast occurred at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon in early August. The explosion killed at least 200 people, according to the BBC, and injured around 5,000. It began as what seemed to be a warehouse fire, but it soon evolved into a catastrophic, supersonic blast that penetrated a large portion of the city. Before the explosion, Lebanon was already in an economic crisis. Nearly half of the population (45%) lives under the poverty line; the explosion has only worsened this number. Beirut’s governor stated that the financial damage to the city is $10-15 billion. The tragedy’s effect on education is a pervasive concern.

How Schools Are Impacted

Beirut was the education, publishing, and cultural capital of Lebanon, as asserted by Al-Fanar Media. With its well-known universities, Beirut was a place for locals and tourists alike to admire. The destruction to the city, though, is causing a major halt to the flourishing academic hub. The damages done to these universities amount to millions of dollars, according to the media advisor at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Albert Chamoun.

Lebanon’s only public university, Lebanese University, has seen the worst damage out of all of Beirut’s universities. Given the financial status of Lebanon before the blast, the tragedy has only worsened the state of the university. Permanent closures may cost faculty their jobs, thus threatening them with potential poverty. Moreover, Collège du Sacré Coeur-Frères, or the Sacred Hear-Brothers College, founded in 1894, is another school affected by the blast. Considering that the school had 1,300 students enrolled, the destruction of the building hinders students’ ability to go back to school anytime soon, leaving them at home. The effects on education extend to faculty, students, and students’ families.

Future Poverty

In a country already riddled with poverty, “Lack of access to education is a major predictor of passing poverty from one generation to the next”. Schools and universities, like Lebanese University, are oftentimes young people’s only hope in moving up socioeconomically. Attaining literacy and numeracy skills greatly aids a young person’s ability to get a job in the future. Coupling this with the COVID-19 pandemic, online-learning is also not accessible for all students; many depend on in-person teaching simply because they do not have access to technology nor the internet while at home. The blast only furthered this technology gap, resulting in worse poverty for those involved in the tragic event.

According to Governer Marwan Abboud, about 300,000 people are currently without a home in Beirut. Without the reconstruction of schools, Lebanese children and young people face the lifelong threat of remaining in poverty. Therefore, the blast’s lasting effect on education directly relates to its’ effect on poverty levels in Lebanon.

Taking Action

The tragedy that occurred in Beirut is one that will permeate throughout the country for years to come. The effect on education is just one consequence of the deadly blast. Luckily, there are fundraisers and other efforts in place to help those affected by the Beirut blast, many of which involve education. Linked here is a GoFundMe to raise money for computers for students at Sacred Heart-Brothers College that do not have access to technology at home. In addition, UNICEF is helping reconstruct the damaged buildings in Beirut and aid Lebanese people across the country. They have delivered close to 20 shipments of PPE, nutrition supplies, and other hygiene necessities. They have also provided psycho-social first aid to children affected, along with caregivers that offer health referrals and counseling.

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has proposed a fundraising appeal called Li Beirut, or “For Beirut.” The purpose of this fundraising is to reconstruct schools and museums that were affected by the blast. This proposal has the potential to help many children and adolescence retain their right to education and to move up in their economic class.

Anna Hoban
Photo: Pixabay

Protests in Belarus
Often considered the last dictator of Europe, Alexander Lukashenko has been the autocratic leader of Belarus since 1994. After Belarus split from the Soviet Union, it prospered better than most other Soviet republics. Lukashenko effectively tackled extreme poverty. But Belarus’s economy suffered due to its reluctance to privatize and its reliance on Russian subsidies. However, lawmakers are apathetic of the wellbeing of the majority due to corruption. In response, tens of thousands of citizens, unhappy with the current systems, participated in protests in Belarus. Protesters demanded the current leader step down and allow for free and fair elections.

Poverty in Belarus

Despite suffering the economic effects after 1991, Belarus has made leaps in poverty reduction from 2003 to 2013. As of 2018, the poverty rate is at 5.6%, compared to 41.9% in 2000. However, much of the market is dependent on Russian energy, so recent subsidy slashes and rising gas prices jeopardize the Belarusian economy. Additionally, since the days of Soviet power, few free-market reforms have worked in the economy, hindering growth.

Although Belarus’s poverty rate is decreasing, the median income remains low and stagnant for the majority of the population. The average Belarusian adult possesses a wealth of about $1,500, lower than a Kenyan or Nepalese citizen. Nearly 10,000 experience food insecurity and social protection programs are ineffective. Unemployment relief is only around $12 to $24 and less than 10% of unemployed individuals receive these benefits.

Further, inequality in Belarus continues to rise. Authorities have shifted the effects of the economic crisis away from the wealthiest to ordinary people through policies, such as higher taxes and a raised retirement age. Many wealthy people have managed to avoid taxes altogether. To exacerbate the issue, 10% to 25% of employed Belarusians work in a shadow economy, meaning the state is unable to accurately track sales and loses tax revenue. In response, Belarus has attempted to create unemployment taxes, causing an uproar. However, authorities are dismissive of the people’s requests, believing Belarus’s autocratic system shields them from consequence.

Citizen Response

In response to the corruption and subsequent poverty in Belarus, upwards of 100,000 people have taken to the streets in massive protests and walkouts. They have been demonstrating outside Lukashenko’s palace for weeks, demanding he steps down. They claim that the August 2020 election was rigged in favor of long-time president Lukashenko with an 80% win despite an approval rate of only 24%.

Initially, the protests in Belarus were met with violent crackdowns. Riot police injured hundreds of people while using stun guns, rubber bullets and water cannons. During these protests in Belarus, the police arrested thousands. The government also silenced the news and social media sites. NGO investigations obtained evidence of detained citizens being beaten and harassed, which violates international law. Pressure from many of these NGOs and international governments has caused violence to stall, but Lukashenko has not yet acquiesced to protester’s demands.

Support for Belarusians

Following the violent response to protests in Belarus, volunteers worked to provide aid to the protesters. Many protesters fear going to hospitals for treatment because police have confiscated vital supplies and arrested doctors for helping protesters. In response, travel agent Anna Koval turned her office into a refuge for injured protesters. She and her group have also sent doctors directly to the homes of injured protesters for treatment and collaborated with the Red Cross to distribute humanitarian aid from hospitals to people in jail.

Internationally, 17 NGOs have called for a special meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging for an investigation into the violence against Belarusian protesters and detained citizens. One Dutch NGO has even begun sending aid in the form of BitCoin to the Belarus protests. It is hoping to create a new economy for those stuck in poverty.

In the U.S., Resolution 658, which recognizes Lukashenko’s dictatorship in the region and urges for free and fair elections, was affirmed in the Senate. Targeted sanctions have been active since 2004, and the U.S. continues to provide aid in the form of private sector development and democratic cultivation within the region.

Since its departure from the Soviet Union, Belarus has struggled with the creation of a stable economy and a fair political system. However, it has still made major advancements across the board. There is no reason to believe the people will struggle forever. The firm resolve of Belarusians to fight for their freedoms and well-being, with assistance from the international community will hopefully lead to major reforms that will benefit future citizens.

– Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in Belarus
Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe with a population of approximately 9.5 million people. Before gaining independence in 1991, Belarus was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. The country had maintained strong economic and political relations with Russia for much of its post-independence history. Aleksandr Lukashenko, elected president in 1994, remains in power today. Despite sharp economic fluctuations in recent decades, Belarus is considered an upper-middle-income economy by the World Bank, and its GDP per capita was an estimated $18,900 in 2017. Belarus spent around 5.9% of the total size of its economy in the health sector in 2017 — slightly more than the 5.5% the nation invested from 2010 to 2014. To learn more about this important topic, here are five facts about healthcare in Belarus.

5 Facts about Healthcare in Belarus

  1. Experts estimate Life expectancy at birth in Belarus for women and men at 79.2 years and 69.3 years, respectively. This ranking grants the country a ranking of 139th in the world. Additionally, physician density, the number of physicians per 1,000 persons stands at 0.00519 as of 2015. Hospital bed density is similarly modest, amounting to 10.8 beds per 1,000 persons as of 2014.
  2. The Ministry of Health directs the Belarusian healthcare system. The Ministry of Health centralizes, stratifies and operates the country’s healthcare system. Also, the Ministry of Health is solely involved in all matters related to creating and implementing healthcare policies and programs — as well as playing a significant role in pharmaceutical regulation. Individual regions fund primary and secondary care, while the Ministry of Health funds tertiary services. Notably, general taxation funds healthcare in Belarus.
  3. Belarus utilizes universal healthcare. Healthcare in Belarus is mostly provided through government-owned facilities, allowing citizens to receive free services. Moreover, the percentage of out-of-pocket expenses relative to total health expenditures has traditionally been low. For instance, in 2017, this figure reached approximately 27.5%. The breadth of access to primary care providers and inpatient care services depends on citizens’ geographical location, except for emergency services.
  4. Preventable habits and diseases represent major health concerns. Alcohol, tobacco, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are all lifestyle-induced conditions posing major health risks to the citizens of Belarus. With an average of 17.5 liters per person, Belarus ranks among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of annual alcohol consumption. Tobacco use is similarly prevalent. For example, in 2011, 50.4% of men and 10.2% of women reported smoking, daily. Tuberculosis (TB) is another disease that has imposed a significant threat in terms of public health in Belarus. More than 9,000 diagnoses occurred in 2011; approximately 25% of those patients had multi-drug-resistant (MDR) TB. This represents a strain of TB that is highly resistant to drugs and may cause death. The country also ranks 75th for the number of people living with HIV/AIDS, estimated at 27,000.
  5. Efficiency in delivering healthcare services is problematic. Not only is there a shortage of professionals at primary care facilities, but the overuse of healthcare facilities is also a key concern. Moreover, many areas rely on healthcare professionals who are either still in training or preparing for retirement. This means that their capacity to serve is limited. Also, the industry in Belarus pays Healthcare workers noticeably less, compared with neighboring countries.

Room for Improvement

These facts indicate that the healthcare system in Belarus is generally effective in terms of coverage and guaranteeing medical services to all. However, there remain significant areas where healthcare in Belarus needs improvement. For example, some suggestions include implementing better management, tackling the health risks associated with heavy alcohol and tobacco consumption and providing better pay for healthcare workers. With these improvements, healthcare in Belarus can better the lives of thousands of citizens, nationwide.

– Oumaima Jaayfer
Photo: Pixbay

Hunger in BelarusLocated between Poland and Russia, Belarus was part of the Soviet Union before becoming known as the “last dictatorship of Europe.” After the fall of the USSR, Belarus began a long transition, switching its economic structure from a command economy to a more strict market economy. Alexander Lukashenko became the first president in 1994, and he is still in office today. In 2020, Belarus scored poorly on the World Press Freedom Index, ranking 153 out of 180 other countries. Despite the need to improve some of its sectors, poverty and hunger in Belarus are not significant issues.

The State of Hunger in Belarus

Belarus has a global hunger index rating of five. Countries with rates of less than nine have a low risk of hunger problems. Since Belarus’s government subsidizes agriculture, the production of food remains steady, constituting 6.4% of its GDP. Along with low hunger in Belarus, the unemployment rate went from 1% in 2016 to 0.3% in 2019. Poverty likewise remains low, at a 5% rate. As such, Belarus is progressing in development. The United Nations rated the country to have “very high development,” putting it in 50th place out of 189 nations.

Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, officials expect unemployment rates to rise to 2.3% in Belarus. The pandemic may cause more residents to lack the means to obtain food. So far, the government has not implemented any measures to help people with job loss during the pandemic. Cases began rising in mid-April, and the World Health Organization worries that the government is not doing enough. If not handled properly, the unemployment rates may continue to rise into 2021. Belarus’s government, while not having a strict plan for job loss, has supplied food to residents by issuing a decree to offer free assistance. Government officials have also not yet spoken about any plans to offer monetary assistance to residents that must leave work because of the pandemic.

Future of Hunger in Belarus

Despite the pandemic, Belarus can expect a continued low hunger rate. Though the country is succeeding in improving living conditions, it still is not completely free of poverty. The Belstat statistical committee estimated that one in five Belarusians live in poverty. However, looking into 2021, others predict that unemployment will lower again to 1.8%.

Belarus has significantly less inequality than other EU countries, so there is less of a gap concerning household income between the wealthiest 10% and the poorest 10% of residents. The country has had its difficulties from moving to a command economy to a semi-market economy, but it has also made significant progress. Since Belarus is one of the countries that first created the United Nations, it has been able to advance more of its goals, such as improving the economy and promoting foreign trade. Throughout the years, the country has received aid from various organizations that have helped its rapid development from 2012 to 2016. Belarus may have some problems in dealing with poverty, but it has prospered due to aid from the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and several programs from the United Nations. This has all helped to reduce the level of hunger that citizens of Belarus face.

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Homelessness in BelarusBelarus, known as Europe’s last dictatorship, is a former member of the Soviet Union. It is a relatively poor nation, ranking 136th in GDP growth rate and 94th in GDP per capita. The U.N. classifies Belarus as an “economy in transition.” This classification is for countries that have been transitioning from a centrally planned, Soviet-style economy to a market economy since the 1990s. That change has not been easy, as the millennium began with Belarus’ poverty rate hovering at 60%. Despite the nation’s massive reduction in poverty — to less than 1% in 2013 — homelessness in Belarus continues to persist.

Belarus Guarantees the Right to Housing in its Constitution

Ratified in 1973, Belarus’ constitution guarantees housing as a human right: “In the absence of basic shelter and housing for a large group of people, the State is obliged to make every effort and use all available resources to meet the minimum obligations for the realization of the right to housing.” 

The constitution states that homelessness should not exist. The national government must put policies in place to address homelessness in Belarus and to combat the discrimination and persecution homeless individuals face. In reality, however, the housing supply is low, forcing many vulnerable individuals into homelessness. The current government mostly ignores the homeless issue and has not addressed it by increasing the availability of adequate, affordable housing. 

Lack of Data on Homelessness in Belarus

Accurate, up-to-date information and a systematic approach to data collection are vital in addressing homelessness. Belarus does not have a singular standardized method utilized throughout the nation. Each district and city government has their own way of collecting data, which leads to conflicting information.

In 2014, Minsk, the capital, officially registered 65 homeless individuals, but the national government counted 500. In 2013, the ministry of labor and social protection reported approximately 4,000 cases of homelessness throughout the entire country, but five years earlier, the 2009 census counted 587. These varying statistics plant seeds of doubt in future counts.

The real number of homeless people in Belarus could be higher than any previous count. In 2015, Minsk counted 320 homeless individuals. These 320 people were all registered at the city’s shelters, but 1,600 people had recently “inquired” about shelter registration. Without one standardized approach, this statistical unreliability will continue, and the true scope of the problem will remain unknown.

The National Government Takes Little Action

While the constitution states that homelessness in Belarus should not exist, the government takes little action. The lack of reliable statistics on the issue is a prime example of this. The national government relies on temporary shelters, located in a handful of cities, mainly Minsk, to house the homeless. The city governments are responsible for these shelters, complicating matters.

For example, Gomel announced in 2011 that a homeless shelter would be completed in 2016, but this never happened, and no other alternatives have since been proposed. Also, Minsk once had 11 operational temporary shelters. There are now three presently accepting homeless individuals in a city of almost 2 million people.

The actions the national government does take on homelessness include taxing those suffering from it. In 2015, the Belarusian parliament signed Presidential Decree number 3 into law. This bill, also known as the “freeloaders tax,” fines individuals that have been unemployed for six months. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko argued that the legislation disciplines the “work-shy.” Such a bill affects those that are chronically homeless, who have not been working for many years.

Everyday Citizens Are Volunteering to Combat Homelessness in Belarus

Private citizens have decided to take matters into their own hands. Dr. Karina Radchenko has been providing the homeless population of Minsk with free healthcare since 2019. Her work has recently gained international media attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Radchenko was spurred into action because many homeless Belarusians do not have proper identification, meaning treatment for diseases such as COVID-19 or AIDS is not free.

The volunteer doctor has tested more than 200 homeless people for HIV. Radchenko’s mission has since grown. Her group, now known as Street Medicine, consists of 20 volunteers. They go to the Minsk city center twice a week, helping any that ask. Neither the Belarusian government nor the Minsk government offers Street Medicine any financial assistance, forcing the group to rely solely on donations.

Conclusion

The present homeless policy in Belarus will result in the problem continuing. The true scope of homelessness in Belarus is unknown. No standardized approach to counting these individuals has been created under Lukashenko’s government. Instead, a tax has been levied against the chronically homeless. This all occurs under a constitution that guarantees adequate housing to all its citizens. Belarusian citizens like Dr. Karina Radchenko are taking matters into their own hands and pushing for the necessary changes — changes that will have to occur if life for Belarus’ most vulnerable citizens is to improve.

– Marcus Lawniczak
 Photo: Flickr