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

sanitation in belarusBelarus, a post-Soviet state that spent seven decades as a conglomerate of the larger Soviet Union, industrialized early, making much of its industrial base outdated and inefficient today. The country is highly dependent on Russia economically, with many treaties linking the two nations, and much of the sanitation and infrastructure remains unchanged from the early 20th century. This has left much of the country without safe sanitation or modern amenities, reducing the standard of living. Looking back on Belarus’s sanitation history shows high chemical content in their water, poor waste management systems and poor consistency of water flow. However, large scale projects on the horizon are looking to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of Belarus’s sanitation infrastructure.

5 Facts About Sanitation in Belarus

  1. Current status: Though Belarus struggles compared to its Western European neighbors, compared with some of its Eastern counterparts, Belarus scores in the top third of countries in the Human Development Index measure for “quality of standard of living” metrics. Additionally, compared with some of its less developed neighbors eastward, Belarus ranks in the top third in countries for environmental sustainability which also takes into account sanitation in Belarus. The United Nation’s report on water states that 95% of the population has access to a safe potable water source, 86% of the country has safe wastewater treatment and 81% of the country has access to safe sanitation services. While these numbers may appear relatively high, they are critically low when compared to Western European nations. For example, Belarus’s neighbor to the West, Poland, has 100% of its population with access to potable water and 93% of the country that has access to sanitation services.
  2. Clean water access is an ongoing problem: According to a study conducted on drinking water in Belarus, the quality of potable water is among the most pressing ecological problems for Belarus. Multiple outbreaks of diseases can be attributed to poor access to clean water. For example, in 1997, poor drinking water quality caused a small 400-case outbreak of aseptic meningitis. Other disease outbreaks related to poor water quality include viral hepatitis and methemoglobinemia in infants. These factors greatly reduced the quality of life for those in Belarus who could not rely on safe water to drink.
  3. Belarus is a “water-rich” country: Though Belarus’s territory has been known to lack basic sanitation, the country contains many natural, accessible water resources. Belarus has many aquatic ecosystems including rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. The historic difficulty for Belarus has been to transform those clean water sources into potable and usable water for its citizens.
  4. The “Clean Water Program”: Massive efforts are underway to transform the Belorussian country’s critical utility services. With support from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, Belarus is upgrading existing critical infrastructure in order to modernize. In addition to upgrading the old infrastructure, the World Bank hopes its investment will not only provide better services but come at a lower cost. It was planned that, through this program, 324,000 citizens of Belarus would have better quality drinking water and a cleaner environment. Through the modernization of existing systems, the reforms would not only bring cleaner water but give a much-needed upgrade to Belarus’s aging solid waste management services. New landfills and water treatment facilities would usher in a new era of environmental efforts as well as raise the standard of living.
  5. The quality of living has risen: In June of 2020, following the completion of the subsidized “Clean Water Program,” the number of people that benefited from quality access and treatment of water rose from 324,000 in 2019 to a staggering 611,766 people at the time of the project’s completion. Not only did more people benefit from increased water quality and treatment, 47,520 individuals gained access to much-improved sanitation services through 32 newly constructed utility centers and 154 kilometers of piping that was replaced. In addition to the new changes brought on by the massive initiative spearheaded by the World Bank, tangible changes in quality of living were noticed throughout the country. In the city of Berezino residents noticed cleaner air and cleaner water in the Berezina river that intersects the town. This was all due to the replaced water treatment center. Residents from another provincial town called Smolevichi noticed that the discoloration in their water supplies was almost totally gone. These noticeable improvements regarding sanitation in Belarus are vital in raising the standard of living in the country and bringing people out of poverty.

While Belarus is still lagging behind many of its more developed Western neighbors, vast international efforts have recognized the need for Belarus to have access to safe drinking water. Recent efforts to address sanitation in Belarus, as well as other water-related infrastructure, are vital to understanding its development as a sovereign state in the 21st century.

– Zak Schneider
Photo: Pixabay

 

COVID-19 in Belarus
With a population of nearly 10 million, Belarus is one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe, and its problems with COVID-19 are just as great. Since its first cases were reported, the country has struggled with treating the virus and limiting its spread. Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Belarus have already revealed flaws in the country’s health infrastructure that could cause problems even after the pandemic ends.

What You Should Know About COVID-19 in Belarus

  1. The true scale of the outbreak remains unknown. Although Belarus began testing for COVID-19 in January, the country reported its first case on February 28. As of May 18, there were 30,572 confirmed cases and 171 deaths resulting from the pandemic. The majority of confirmed cases have occurred in the country’s urban areas on account of their high population density, with the Belarusian capital of Minsk reporting over 4,000 cases on April 24. The Ministry of Health has not provided a cumulative total of recovered patients, making it difficult to know the total number of infections.
  2. Belarus’ government has not enacted strict social distancing policies. While many countries adopted shelter-in-place policies in March and April, Belarus’s government has yet to implement a country-wide shutdown of non-essential businesses. So far, individual cities have decided how to protect their citizens, with some canceling social gatherings and extending school vacations. Unfortunately, this approach has led to an inconsistent response that has failed to slow the spread of the virus.
  3. Medical supplies are limited. Despite having 11 hospital beds per 1,000 people – one of the highest ratios in the world – the lack of quarantine protocols quickly overwhelmed Belarus’ healthcare system. Patients treated for COVID-19-related pneumonia observed that nurses and other healthcare officials were uninformed and inadequately equipped to handle the growing number of cases. Due to supply shortages and limited social distancing, epidemiologists predict that between 15,000 and 32,000 people could die of COVID-19.
  4. The pandemic could force the country into a recession. One reason Belarus lacks a comprehensive social distancing policy is that the country may not be able to afford it. Even before the crisis, Belarus’ economy had started to slow down, with GDP growth dropping from 3% to 1.2% between 2018 and 2019. Economists predict that reduced trade with Western Europe and Russia due to the pandemic could push the country into a recession. While the economic impact of COVID-19 is still unclear, it could cause Belarus’ economy to contract by up to 4%. This may require Belarus to cut spending on programs for vulnerable populations such as low-income households.
  5. The international community is stepping up. Due to the shortage of personal protective equipment and medical supplies in Belarus, other countries have begun shipping supplies over. On April 17, 32 tons of medical equipment such as thermometers, goggles, and gloves arrived in Belarus from China. At the same time, the European Union announced a 3 billion euro relief fund for 10 Eastern European countries, including Belarus. Belarus may require more aid in the future, but these contributions will help ease the country’s financial strain.

Although the full implications of the pandemic are still unknown, foreign aid will reduce the impact of COVID-19 in Belarus. Such aid is vitally important for the country’s ability to protect its sick and vulnerable populations.

Sarah Licht
Photo: Flickr

Orphans in Belarus
In 2008, an economic crisis hit Belarus causing over 25,000 orphans. In addition to this, the effects of Chernobyl are still causing birth defects in children. Limited resources have put these disabled, Belarusian children into orphanages which contributes to a large number of institutionalized children without proper care.

5 Facts About Orphans in Belarus

  1. Economic Crisis: In 2008, an economic downturn caused over 25,000 children to become orphaned. In many cases, the government separated Belarusian children from their families because it deemed their families’ homes unfit, especially since many did not have the financial ability to care for children with disabilities. The ChildFund is an organization that helps work with communities in order to help Belarusians deal with neglect, poverty and misconceptions about orphaned and disabled children. Childfund states that, as a result of its efforts, three of five piloted communities have stopped placing children in orphanages.
  1. Disabilities: According to UNICEF, about 35 percent of institutionalized Belarusian orphans are living with some form of disability. Belarusian disabled children lack the care and education necessary to facilitate their growth and improve their well-being. UNICEF is currently working with the Belarusian government in order to make disabled Belarusian children a priority.
  1. Worst Conditions: Nearly 100 children and young adults were starving in Minsk orphanages in 2017. Some weighed under 35 pounds with one 20-year-old weighing under 25 pounds. The director of children’s hospices said that staff treat many children as plants. A full criminal investigation launched and many people lost their positions. UNICEF opened in Minsk in 1997 and is working with the Republic of Belarus in order to create a healthy and safe environment for every child.
  1. Adoption for Americans: From 2001 to 2004, Americans adopted hundreds of Belarusian children. In 2004, President Aliakansandr Lukashenko imposed new restrictions on adoptions and this has put a hold on the number of adoptions between Belarus and America. Still, in 2019, this hold is in effect and has prevented Americans from being able to adopt Belarusian children, even if they are living in Belarus.
  1. How to Help: There are several fantastic organizations that are helping children in Belarus. ChildFund International has implemented a program that allows people to donate vitamins to help disabled orphans in Belarus. It has also established a Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children program which allows people to sponsor and donate to orphans in Belarus. UNICEF is also supporting orphans in Belarus by defending their rights. World Without Orphans is another organization that helps orphans in Belarus and has offered support for children and families since 2012.

A lot has been accomplished in Belarus in order to help Belarusian orphans, however, the changes are slow and require everyone to do their part. More awareness, a release of holds on potential parents and financial assistance should end the increased influx of Belarusian orphans in Belarus. In addition to this, children with disabilities should receive the proper care they require.

– Lisa Di Nuzzo
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business of enslaving and transporting unwilling individuals into lives of sexual exploitation through violence and coercion. It directly links to poverty, which is an extreme living condition in which a person or a community lacks the financial resources for an adequate standard of living. Although both men and women can be victims of trafficking, traffickers are predominately selling adult and adolescent females into modern slavery by promising them wealth, the fulfillment of outstanding debt or false promises of opportunities that could result in better living conditions. Although poverty and sex trafficking is an issue globally, it is especially prevalent in foreign countries.

In June 2019, the U.S. Department of State published its annual investigation report that documents human trafficking from the year prior. According to the report’s tier placements, the number one countries on the best and the worst tier level are Argentina and Belarus. Tier placement is a four-level ranking that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) created that documents a country’s acknowledgment of human trafficking and the extent of its efforts to eliminate it. Tier 1 includes countries with governments that fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watchlist involves countries with governments that do not currently comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to ensure that,  they do one day; the two levels are similar, but the difference is that Tier 2 Watchlist countries either currently have a significant number of trafficking victims or the number of victims is significantly increasing. Tier 3 consists of countries with governments that do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards nor are they making significant efforts to do so.

Argentina

Argentina is a vast country located in the southern half of South America. As the eighth-largest country in the world, and the second-largest country in South America after Brazil, estimates determine that Argentina had a population of 44.6 million in July 2018. After a year of economic turmoil in 2018, poverty had increased from 25.7 percent to 33.6 percent by the end of the year with 13.6 million people living in poverty.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Argentina is a “source, transit, and destination [country] for the trafficking of men, women, and girls.” Women and adolescent girls who traffickers traffick in Argentina often come from impoverished communities. Often, they migrate to Argentina under false pretenses for employment opportunities, such as agriculture or nightlife, that would result in better lives. Since 2008, over 10,000 trafficking victims received rescue with 48 percent of rescued women and girls being poverty and sex trafficking victims.

Argentina’s Ranking and Efforts to Eliminate Human Trafficking

Argentina has skyrocketed to a Tier 1 placement through various actions to eliminate sex trafficking and prosecute individuals who perpetuate this unlawful crime. In reference to the U.S. Department of State, the Argentinian government’s General Prosecutor’s Office for Human Trafficking and Sex Exploitation and the National Rescue Program operate a national 24-hour human trafficking hotline, Linea 145, which has helped simplify investigations of trafficking allegations. In addition, the National Rescue Program coordinates emergency services for sex trafficking victims. The Argentinian government has also prosecuted and convicted complicit officials; identified, assisted and established additional legal protections for victims; and provided additional training to government officials and civil society members when encountering victims or perpetrators of sex trafficking.

Belarus

Belarus, formerly Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country located in Eastern Europe. As of December 2018, estimates determined that Belarus has a population of 9.7 million after losing approximately 14,000 people due to migration and the death rate exceeding the birth rate. Although Belarus has relatively low levels of poverty with only 5.6 percent of the population living in extreme poverty, the victims of sexual exploitation in this country are amongst a vulnerable population of individuals who live in extreme poverty and have low levels of education.

According to the U.S. Department of State, more victims of poverty and sex trafficking receive exploitation within Belarus than abroad due to its weak law enforcement efforts and nonsensical laws. One of these laws is Article 181 which deems sex trafficking illegal only under the demonstration of coercion, thereby dismissing sex trafficking cases that do not involve coercion and making Belarus a destination country for women, men and children to suffer subjection to forced labor and commercial sex. Traffickers typically transport victims who originate in Belarus to various countries in Europe such as Germany, Poland, Russia and Turkey. Victims who suffer exploitation within the country are usually foreigners, originating from countries such as Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Belarus government has not made significant efforts to rescue victims or eliminate sex trafficking from its nation.

Belarus’ Ranking

The U.S. Department of State credited Belarus as one of the top five worst offenders of human trafficking. After receiving a rank on the Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years, Belarus dropped to Tier 3 after making no progress to execute effective practices to combat human trafficking. The Belarusian government attempted to combat trafficking by participating in multilateral projects in an effort to eliminate sex trafficking and protect victims, and it repealed a decree that required unemployed persons to either pay a tax to the state or perform obligatory community service. However, a report from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mentioned that government efforts to repeal forced labor policies and domestic trafficking were inadequate. In fact, the number of investigations progressively declined between 2005-2014, resulting in no convictions in 2014 and insufficient practices to protect trafficking victims.

The United States Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report allows the world to remain updated on the current state of human trafficking in both the U.S. and foreign countries. When countries receive a Tier 3 ranking, they may undergo sanctions, which could encourage them to implement more plans to eliminate sex trafficking. By acknowledging the issue and the connection between poverty and sex trafficking, educating the public and taking advantage of the resources to raise awareness, the world could one day eliminate human trafficking from all nations.

– Arielle Pugh
Photo: Flickr

Oral Health Literacy

Belarus, since 1991 an independent state in northeast Europe, remains somewhat isolated from the European mainstream as one of several successor states to the Soviet Union. Though the country hosts 4.08 physicians per 1,000 people, a figure comparable to many developed nations, there remain areas of the healthcare system that require improvement, and one such area is the dental health sector. For a dental health sector to treat the maximum number of citizens effectively, the population must attain a minimally competent level of oral health literacy. Several oral health literacy studies have diagnosed the quality of dental hygiene knowledge and provide strategies for improving oral literacy in the general population. Though data has been sparse since these studies, they suggest a continuing improvement in dental health and therefore in oral health literacy within the populace.

Oral Health Literacy in Post-Soviet Belarus

In 1996, several years after the dissolution of the USSR, oral health survey data established that tooth decay and periodontal disease affected approximately 85 percent of children and 100 percent of adults. Since then, these findings incentivized research into the development of successful and economical disease prevention strategies. Chief among these is ensuring oral health literacy.

A 2004 epidemiological study sought to uncover the link between urban or rural status and level of education on oral health literacy. The scope of the study encompassed randomly selected subjects from all six regions of Belarus, entailing administration of dental health examinations on six and 12 year-old children, questionnaires directed to mothers and primary school teachers and subsequent processing and interpretation of the data collected.

Of the children surveyed, 93 percent of tested six year-olds and 85 percent of tested 1- year-olds showed signs of tooth decay, with both 12- and six-year-old urban students less likely to have experienced tooth decay than their rural counterparts, although the contrast was more dramatic for 12-year-old test subjects. The questionnaires directed to mothers established that urban mothers were more likely than rural mothers to exhibit oral health literacy, and this knowledge disparity was likewise reflected in better oral hygiene habits in urban families. However, primary school teacher respondents provided generally accurate answers to the questionnaire, with no major knowledge disparity on based on the urban-rural divide.

This study concludes that a strong correlation existed between the knowledge and habits of parents and the dental health of their children. Both six- and 12-year-olds exhibited rates of tooth decay surpassing the 2000 goal set by World Health Organization for Europe, attributable to a myriad of factors encompassing diet, lifestyle change, inadequate parental involvement and mere lack of knowledge. Though primary school institutions should continue to play a pivotal role in dental hygiene education, parents must increase and improve their own role, facilitated through strategies promoting better access to updated dental health information.

Progress in Pediatric Oral Health Literacy since 2009

In order to determine whether progress has been made in oral literacy since these studies, one must consider the most recently released dental health statistics. Perhaps the most striking available data is that of pediatric dental patients’ DMFT index measurements. Dental epidemiologists record the degree to which a patient’s teeth suffer decay, are missing or filled, using a measurement called the DMFT index, which assigns values from zero to 28 or 32. On this scale, a lower score indicates less tooth damage.

In 2009, the Belarusian government determined that the mean DMFT of the country’s 12 year-olds rested at 2.1, while another study the same year found that 30.6 percent of children of the same age rested at zero in the DMFT index. Though the results of this DMFT study are now a decade old, they constitute a significant improvement over the prior decade, in which (as of 1998) only ten percent of 12 year-olds were cavity-free with a mean DMFT of 3.8.

NGO Involvement and a Trajectory for Improvement

Global Dental Ambassadors, an NGO comprised of dental health professionals committed to the exchange of data and improvement of oral health literacy, annually holds academic exchanges throughout the world. From 19 September to 21 September 2019, this organization held an international academic exchange summit at Belarusian State Medical University involving professionals from the United States and Belarus, with 523 second and third year students of the Belarusian State Medical University witnessing the proceedings. Conventions of this sort hold great promise for ensuring that the dental sector in Belarus remains fully literate on the latest developments within the profession.

Established in 2006 by Chernobyl Children International co-founder Mary Sugrue and dentist Marcas Mac Domhnaill, the Chernobyl Children International Dental Programme focuses primarily on improving the hygiene standard and general oral literacy of Belarusian pediatric dentistry. As Mary Sugrue attests, pediatric tooth extraction procedures did not involve the use of anaesthetic when the organization began working in Belarus. Since then, the organization has done much to decrease the infection rate through educating dentists and patients alike, including children.

Substantial progress has been made in the cause of Belarusian oral health literacy over the past several decades. The most recent data and international NGO involvement gives reason for optimism and incentivizes further investment in improving oral health literacy in Belarus.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Women in Belarus
Belarus, located in Eastern Europe, finds itself ranked among other third world countries. People can identify many different issues about Belarus but one major problem that the country recognizes and is fighting to change is the autonomy of women. In many third world countries, women are at many more disadvantages in men. With the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the successes of women in Belarus are growing to transform the country.

The Gender Gap in Belarus

Women in Belarus did not always have the upper hand when it came to running businesses and having their foot in the working world. As for gender gaps, Belarus was never the worst country on the list. As of 2017, the latest Global Gender Gap Index ranked the country 26 out of 144 countries. This means that there is quite a high level of gender equality in Belarus.

Almost 100 percent of girls attend school because primary and secondary education is compulsory in the country. Women also face barriers in the labor market, so they strive to get more education, which causes them to have higher tertiary enrollment compared to men. Although this is true, women in Belarus still tend to face more discrimination in the labor market than men. Women are approximately 2.5 times less likely to receive a managerial position. Seventeen percent of women and 41 percent of men tend to hold top hierarchical positions. Employers also pay women less than men with the wage gap at 25 percent as of 2017.

USAID in Belarus

USAID noticed an issue with discrimination and wage gaps and decided to step in and transform the business and social landscapes for women in Belarus. Belarus Country Office Director Victoria Mitchell Avdiu spoke on a panel about women’s representation in entrepreneurship. Over 100 women were in attendance, wanting to know how to build confidence, where to find mentors and how to pursue meaningful professional partnerships.

USAID’s objective is to empower women and girls. In doing this, it created the Community Connections Exchange Program. As of 2018, the participants were 60 percent women, and in the last 10 years, 400 women have benefited from this program. The program entails people from Belarus participating in a short-term exchange to the United States. While in the United States, participants learn about practices in a variety of professional fields, participate in entrepreneurship programs, teach business to youth and empower women to resolve community issues.

The Karat Coalition

USAID is not the only organization working to develop pathways for women. The Karat Coalition works to advance legal protections of women’s human rights in Belarus through the adoption of the law on gender equality. Beginning on February 1, 2014, the coalition began a project called Advancing Gender Equality in Belarus. There were three main objectives of this project:

  1. To develop a draft law on gender equality.
  2. To create a strategy for advocacy for the adoption of the law on gender equality.
  3. To empower and mobilize women’s human rights defenders.

The Karat Coalition completed this project on June 20, 2014. It managed to:

  1. Strengthen the capacity of the Belarusian experts’ group to create the draft law.
  2. Strengthen the capacity of Belarusian experts to advocate for the implementation of gender equality laws and standards.
  3. Develop materials to share with the women’s rights advocates community which encompasses information on formulating effective law on gender equality.

Successful Women

With the work of organizations like USAID and the Karat Coalition, women are able to make milestones and be their own person in their own countries. Three women have stood out after taking advantage of opportunities in Belarus.

  1. Margarita Lazarenkova: People know Lazarenkova for her development of creative industries in Belarus. She has developed NGO Creative Belarus that began in response to a worldwide growing trend.
  2. Ludmila Antonauskaya: Antonauskaya has decided to defy the stereotype that women and business do not go together by creating a small company that competes with international giants. In the Top 100 Successful Businesspeople in Belarus, Antonauskaya falls at number 65, the first among women. She created her business, Polimaster, to improve people’s health and save their lives.
  3. Evgeniya Dubeshhuk: Dubeshhuk is the head of the youth exchange organization, Fialta. Fialta helps young people develop critical thinking, broaden their horizons and take on an active role in society.

With the help of organizations creating law and advocating for women to have basic rights in their own country, Belarus is at the start of its transformation. Women in Belarus are beginning to have more opportunities and take control of their own lives.

– Lari’onna Green
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus
Belarus is a former member of the Soviet Union, located between Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Like most post-Soviet states, Belarus has experienced substantial economic and societal problems since attaining sovereignty. The country has developed under a dictatorship and today Belarus has virtually full employment and an official poverty rate of less than six percent. However, the country still faces significant obstacles to public health and economic development. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus

  1. There is a Stark Gender Gap: The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus is that the average life expectancy is 73 years, but there is a significant disparity in life expectancy between males and females. While women in Belarus have an average life expectancy of 79 years, men in the country live until only 67.8 on average. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus. While a genetic predisposition is typically the leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, lifestyle choices are commonly to blame in Belarus. The biggest risk factors for both Belarusian men and women are alcohol consumption, tobacco use and a lack of exercise.
  2. Alcoholism is a Major Problem: Belarus is one of the heaviest alcohol consuming countries in the world. In 2010, Belarusian males consumed an average of almost 29 liters of pure alcohol per capita annually. By 2016, this number was down to 18 liters per capita, which was still triple the global average. Alcohol abuse has concrete consequences for life expectancy in Belarus as alcohol consumption was the cause of over half of liver disease in Belarus in 2016.
  3. There is a Culture of Male Tobacco Use: Almost half of all adult men in Belarus smoke daily, while less than 10 percent of women do. Despite laws establishing an age minimum of 18 for purchasing tobacco, one in every 20 boys between 10 and 14 years old identified themselves as daily smokers in 2016 alone. That same year, tobacco use related to over a quarter of deaths from non-communicable diseases among males in Belarus.
  4. Men Often Die Early: Premature death is very common, particularly among males, skewing data for the average life expectancy for men in Belarus. In contemporary Belarus, an average of close to 40 percent of men dies prematurely between the ages of 30 and 70. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus, accounting for almost 90 percent of all mortalities and the vast majority of premature deaths.
  5. Belarus Guarantees Health Care: The Constitution of Belarus guarantees that the government will provide free, accessible health care to all Belarusians. This does not translate into universally free health care but does include free emergency care, vaccinations, hospital stays and childbirth. According to the 2019 Bloomberg Health Efficiency Index, Belarus ranks within the top 50 most efficient health care systems globally.
  6. Suicide is Prevalent: In 2019, Belarus had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the world. Further, men were reportedly six times more at risk than women. This is largely linked to alcoholism, which is far more common among Belarusian men than women.
  7. Premature Death Hurts Economically and Demographically: According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, the loss of productivity and government expenditure associated with premature deaths cost the Belarusian economy over five percent of its GDP every year. Belarus is one of the fastest shrinking countries due to its net population decline of 750,000 since 1990.
  8. Substance Abuse is a Rural Problem: Rural regions of Belarus, particularly those bordering Russia and Lithuania, experience many alcohol-related deaths at a disproportionate level. This is largely due to increased poverty, which fuels the widespread production of homemade alcohol. One of the first-ever studies on rural alcoholism and homemade alcohol took place in 2016, but due to its significant impact on life expectancy in Belarus, as well as its unregulated nature, the government has made the alcohol black market a legislative priority.
  9. Many Slavic Countries Have Similar Problems: Russia, Belarus’s closest ally, has higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and premature mortality than its neighbor. It has a similar gender gap in life expectancy and is also experiencing a decline in population. Belarus’ cultural, political and geographic proximity to countries like Russia, which have similar cultures of unhealthiness, strengthen may of its problems.
  10. The Government Has Made Steps: The government of Belarus has taken action recently to improve the country’s health standards. In 2018, the World Health Organization reported that the total alcohol consumption per capita had fallen to just 10 liters. In February 2019, the Belarusian president instituted new regulations on the tobacco industry in order to decrease its use, particularly around children.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus show that the tradition of substance abuse impacts the country’s life expectancy gravely, which Belarus largely ignored until recent years. Belarus’ robust health care system shows that the government has an interest in public health. Until recent years, state-run and international health organizations alike had difficulty combating the country’s culture of unhealthiness. This has become a clear governmental priority as reflected in the gradual shift toward more restricted access to tobacco and alcohol.

Since 2015, more studies on alcoholism in Belarus have published than ever before, and the issues of premature death and life expectancy have become common pieces of the national dialogue. Although Belarus has not yet definitively solved the problem of premature death and substance abuse, the country is certainly on the right path to reversing its health trends.

Daniel Rothberg
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Healthcare in Belarus
Fewer than 30 years ago, maternal health care in Belarus was not treated as a top priority in the country and the numbers show it. In 1990, 33 out of every 100,000 live births resulted in the death of the mother. By 2015, that number had decreased to four out of every 100,000.

Reasons for Bad Maternal Health Care in Belarus

The reasons for this precipitous drop are numerous, but some stand out more than others. For a long time, public health in Belarus revolved around containing the fallout from two momentous events. One was the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that directly affected more than 2.2 million people in Belarus, half a million of whom were children. Charities, nongovernmental organizations and United Nations system organizations focused on providing emergency care to those who had been exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation.

The other event was the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health care in Soviet-era Belarus was centered on the Semashko system. In this system, industrial workers, believed to be the source of productivity and prosperity for the Soviet Union, were essentially considered more important than the rest of the population. This resulted in addressing their immediate health needs first while overlooking larger public health concerns and it also meant that health care professionals were not as highly regarded as industrial workers. Low pay and little respect for medical workers perpetuated a cycle of subpar health care in Belarus.

Government Initiatives

Independence from Russia brought economic decline for Belarus in the short-term, but it also created an opportunity to revamp the country’s approach to public health. Maternal health care in Belarus received some overdue attention. Between 2005 and 2010, several health resolutions were initiated under the new Government of the Republic of Belarus, including a greater focus on reducing maternal mortality rates.

One such initiative was to build health facilities in rural areas, so that expectant Belarusian mothers in agricultural townships would have the same access to care as their urban counterparts. Another was to create a multileveled perinatal care system, made possible with the support of the head of state who approved the allocation of funds to improve maternal health care in Belarus. This included employing almost 2,700 obstetrician-gynecologists to treat a population of roughly 4.8 million women of fertile age. This initiative was implemented in 2005.

The Progress of Maternal Health Care in Belarus

A doctor visit at the earliest point in a known pregnancy is optimal for the health of mother and child. To ensure that expectant mothers would adhere to this guideline, a monetary allowance was given to them as an incentive for seeing a doctor within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. As a result of this bold initiative, prenatal visits within the first trimester increased by approximately 93.5 percent.

Paid maternity leave in Belarus lasts between 126 and 140 days, depending on the difficulty of the labor. Fathers are encouraged to play an active role in the birthing process, with maternity wards made to accommodate families. Today, maternal health care in Belarus ranks 26th in the world. Belarus is a shining example of how a country can evolve over a matter of mere decades and transcend seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

With a maternal mortality rate among the lowest in the world and a compassionate and comprehensive maternal health care system, Belarus has defied expectations across the board. The aid provided to the country during the low points in Belarusian history following the Chernobyl disaster and the fall of the Soviet Union was an important stepping stone toward a healthier and more independent Belarus. The state of maternal health care in Belarus is a magnificent reflection of that.

– Raquel Ramos

Photo: Google

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Belarus
The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked nation located in Eastern Europe and a former satellite state of the Soviet Union (USSR). Despite independence and development that came after the USSR’s collapse, Belarus is one of the most repressive countries in Europe. Furthermore, democratic institutions often taken for granted in the West are mostly absent. In the article below, top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Belarus

  1. Belarus’ economy remains largely state-controlled. According to the Heritage Foundation, 70 percent of the state’s economy is managed by the government. A lack of private ownership inhibits innovation and contributes to government inefficiency.
  2. An aspect of Belarus’ economy that has made its citizens relatively well off is the country’s oil reserves and capacity for refinement. It exports refined petroleum, mainly to Russia, in return for inexpensive natural gas. Trade in fossil fuels contributes to Belarussians having a GDP per capita of $18,100, ranking it 66th out of 214 nations.
  3. Despite Belarus having an above average standard of living, its people are far from free. The country is run by authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the man that is in power since 1994. Widely regarded as the “last dictator in Europe,” his crackdown on dissidents, along with widespread human rights violations, are condemned by the West. A particularly appalling fact about Belarus is the lack of press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks Belarus 155th out of 180 in this category, and this is partially due to the imprisonment of 100 journalists in 2017.
  4. Belarus performs reasonably well in major public health indicators. For example, over 99 percent of the country has access to improved drinking water, 94 percent to improved sanitation and its infant mortality rate is a mere 3.6 deaths per 1,000 births. In comparison, the United States has an infant mortality rate of 5.7 per 1,000 births.
  5. A major public health crisis represents disparity between male and female life expectancy. Male life expectancy sits at 66.5, compared to the female rate of 78. Public health experts cite alcohol abuse as a major factor of low life expectancy for Belarussian men. The average man drinks 27.5 liters per year, compared with the worldwide average of 6.2.
  6. Unlike some of its post-Soviet counterparts, such as the Baltic States, Belarus is not closely aligned with the European Union (EU). This isolation has a noticeable impact on Belarus’ economy. EU members have access to one of the largest common markets in the world. Furthermore, citizens of EU member states are generally free to live and work throughout the bloc. Millions of people are taking this advantage and bettering themselves, an option Belarussians do not have.
  7. Overall, the population of Belarus appears to be adequately educated. Adult literacy rates are nearly 100 percent and students spend an average of 15 years in the educational system.
  8. Belarus’ economy is recovering after years of decline. It experienced 2.9 percent annual GDP growth in 2017, with this trend expected to continue through the decade. However, for sustained growth to occur, experts argue that structural reforms must be implemented. These include reducing the debt to GDP ratio and efficiently allocating Belarus’ rich reserves of capital, both physical and human.
  9. Belarus’ leader quells dissent by intimidating and censoring the media. Recently, he has been receiving help from Russia, in the form of state-sponsored propaganda dominating Belarus’ airwaves. The goal of Russia’s campaign, according to World Policy magazine, is to mobilize Belarus’ sizeable Russian population against anti-Russian, pro-Belarussian nationalism. As the Baltic States and unoccupied Ukraine are unequivocally pro-democracy, Russia wants to maintain a friendly neighbor in a region increasingly allied with the West.
  10. The Human Development Index (HDI) ranks nations based on an aggregation of quality of life statistics, including life expectancy, per capita income and education. Based on the quality of these indicators, a country is awarded a score from 0-1. Belarus’ HDI score stands at 0.80, which places the country in 53rd place worldwide. Despite their lack of political freedom, Belarussians have a standard of living well above the world average.

The top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus presented above show a clear dependence of the country on both European Union and Russia, both economically and politically. Despite having autocratic government and being one of the most repressive countries in Europe, the country has seen an increase in economic development that benefited all citizens of the country.

– Joseph Banish
Photo: Flickr