Inflammation and stories on russia

Human Trafficking in Russia
As it stands, Russia is one of the largest hubs of human trafficking and has some of the weakest laws fighting against it. In fact, the Global Slavery Index states that about 794,000 victims survive in the former U.S.S.R. Even so, many organizations are stepping up to eliminate human trafficking in Russia while Russia’s federal government is failing to act.

The Situation

The United States Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) 2020 lists Russia alongside Iran and China as a Tier 3 country because it does not meet the minimum standards in the fight against the criminal industry. Since 2003, the Russian Parliament passed only one bill related to human trafficking in Russia whilst the former countries of the Soviet Union implemented hundreds of laws. Even then, the law is vague and fails to comply with the definitions that the U.N. set.

While sex trafficking is a major problem, most instances of human trafficking in Russia relate to forced labor. In the TIP report for 2019, North Korean workers, likely “engaged in informal labor,” received approximately 20,000 student visas and tourist visas. As authorities declined to investigate instances of trafficking, reports showed evidence that the North Korean government held forced labor work camps in Russia. Despite this systemic abuse, no federal help came to assist victims or prosecute the perpetrators.

 The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and 2018 FIFA World Cup enriched Russia’s economy but under the backs of tens of thousands of unpaid workers. According to the Harvard International Review, about 70,000 foreign laborers worked on these two projects. Reportedly, they suffered under terrible conditions and those who did receive pay did not have any way to get back home. Considering the situation of trafficking in Russia, some NGOs are making sure victims obtain justice.

Alternativa

Also known as The Alternative, human rights activist Oleg Melikov originally founded the NGO in response to political corruption and environmental harm. The organization has rescued over 1,000 victims of modern slavery, including a much-publicized case of a man forced to work in a Dagestani brick plant. The backlash forced the Dagestani government to create stricter labor laws and tighter rules for people to enter public busses.

Help Services For Nigerians in Russia

Specifically fighting for the protection of Nigerians against sex trafficking, this organization is responsible for saving over 240 women from slavery. This work is directly due to Nigerian-born activist Oluremi Banwo Kehinde. Since 2015, he has provided temporary housing, coordinated official documentation and referred victims for medical treatment. As a result of his work, then-Secretary of State John Kerry regarded Kehinde as a Trafficking in Persons Hero in 2016.

Eurasia Foundation

Founded in 1992 following the Soviet Union’s fall, Eurasia Foundation is a massive organization spanning from Eastern Europe to Uzbekistan. Its focus is on assisting community initiatives, providing scholarships and promoting global education. Eurasia Foundation hosted a forum on combating human trafficking in Central Asia, including Russia. For five days, experts, government officials and others analyzed methods to solve modern slavery. They even highlighted the plausibility that the COVID-19 pandemic may strengthen the anonymity of traffickers. EF’s forums resulted in local organizations being better able to protect survivors and prosecute criminals. With psychosociological therapy and practical learning, over 300 persons experienced reintegration into society in the first nine months of 2020.

The tragedy of human trafficking in Russia is real, but these international heroes are working to assist the victims and provide real solutions. What each of these organizations has in common is an altruistic desire to ease suffering, even at the expense of safety.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Public Health and Education
Russia is a country located in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Russia is one of 10 nations that the World Bank has recognized for the greatest improvements to public health and education over the last decade. This improvement in human capital has had positive implications for the country’s economic and social prosperity. Here is some information about public health and education in Russia.

Improvements in Health

Russia has made strides in improving public health care since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, the country’s health care system was underfunded and lacked resources, which resulted in many people being unable to receive treatment for common illnesses. In the 30 years since, Russia has vastly reformed and improved this system. Here are three ways that Russia amended its healthcare system.

  1. Quality Improvement Methodology – U.S. and Russian Federal officials worked together with the Quality Assurance Project (QAP) to implement quality improvement methods in doctor’s offices and hospitals, some examples being increased focus on patients, teamwork and use of data. Officials sought to set attainable and realistic goals for improvement that the country could fulfill in the foreseeable future.
  2. Increased Health Financing – Officials sought to direct more money into the health care system, using several methods including establishing payroll taxes for employers and private financing through commercial companies. In addition, the financing of health care was decentralized to regional and local levels to decrease strain on the national budget. Furthermore, larger cities used voluntary health insurance as a way for employers to purchase access to higher-level facilities.
  3. Pharmaceutical Reforms – Several reforms have emerged to better regulate pharmaceutical prices and production. For example, vital and essential drug lists set products at a fixed price at the federal level. This management of drug prices has increased medicinal accessibility for low-income Russians.

These measures have had several implications for overall public health improvements. Several previously common ailments have drastically decreased in prevalence. For example, pregnancy-induced hypertension, which occurred among 43.8% of women in 1998, is only present among 5.6% of women presently. In addition, better use of resources has cut costs for medical treatment of several conditions; hypertension treatment costs, for example, have decreased by 41% since the 1990s. In the future, Russia’s health care system will continue to develop with focuses on further increasing accessibility and developing primary healthcare.

Improvements in Education

Russia has demonstrated a strong education system, and the quality of education is continually improving as enrollment in higher education increases. Here are three improvements that Russia has made to its education system.

  1. State Education Strategy – Russia’s education system has incorporated a standardized curriculum, including clear milestones, implementation metrics and an action plan. This regularity has improved the quality of education nationwide by establishing the same educational expectations across all regions. In addition, the organization of two ministries, the Education Ministry and the Science and Higher Education Ministry, have improved the management of the quality of secondary and higher education.
  2. Increase in Higher Education Enrollment – From 2013 to 2017, enrollment in Russian universities increased by 40%. In addition, Russia boasts about 200,000 international students, a figure which expectations have determined could triple in the coming years. Furthermore, higher education in Russia is more affordable than Western higher education, increasing access to education for those in rural regions and low-income communities.
  3. Private Education Reform – In recent years, Russia has experienced an increase in investment in private education, with more wealthy Russians sending their children to private schools with Western-style curriculums. In accompaniment with this, teachers have been moving to Russia from other countries to teach in these schools, many coming from Britain in particular to teach English curriculums. Along with this, Russia has been cracking down on private institutions pushing ideologically irresponsible messages, limiting access to fraudulent or incomplete educations.

These measures have drastically improved the overall quality of education in Russia, which has led to increased expected years of schooling and improvements in secondary school enrollment. An overall better-educated population will be more productive in the long-term, as they will be able to transition into a competitive job market more easily and produce greater economic outcomes.

Conclusion

Education quality is strong in Russia and performance expectations are high. Health outcomes, however, are a work in progress, with Russia’s public health quality lying below the global average. Improvements in this sector will not only allow this gap to reduce but will also increase the quality of Russia’s human capital.

According to Renaud Seligmann, the World Bank Country Director in Russia, “Human capital contributes greatly to improving economic growth in every country. Investments in knowledge and health that people accumulate during their lives are of paramount concern to governments around the world.” By increasing the quality of public health and education in Russia, the country is making an investment in its population for years to come, guaranteeing that future generations will have longer life expectancies and educational attainment than those that came before them.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Russia
Russia is somewhat infamous for its history of oppression and human rights abuses. Often in the news for things like unfair elections or police brutality, gender equality is a less-reported topic, but nonetheless a pervasive and damaging systemic issue. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Russia.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Russia

  1. Russian women are equal in theory, but not in practice. The Constitution of Russia, adopted in 1993, guarantees equal rights for women and men. Even before that, the Bolshevik Revolution granted women’s rights in Russia– including suffrage– in 1917. However, women are still fighting inequality in many sectors, including the professional realm. People in Russia expect women to prioritize motherhood over professional development because of Russia’s low fertility rate. Citing a belief that strenuous jobs pose a threat to women’s safety and reproductive health, the government has barred women from occupations like aircraft repair, construction and firefighting. While the country passed reforms in 2019 to reduce the number of restricted jobs from 456 to 100, they will not come into effect until 2021. However, some of the largest industries, like mining and electric engineering, remain in the barred category.
  2. More women are in poverty than men. In addition to legal barriers to job opportunities, traditional gender roles box women out of professions like politics. Women earn on average 30% less than a man, one of the largest wage gaps among high-income countries. Even in professions where the wage gap is the smallest, like in the education sector, there is a 20% difference in average salary. Women also do a significant amount of unpaid work– estimates have determined that the loss to the annual budget due to gender segregation is 40-50% in Russia. Were Russia to offer equal resources in agriculture to all genders, it could raise food production by 30%. Higher poverty rates for women affect not only women but the children they raise. Impoverished women often cannot afford higher education for their children, which limits the children’s upwards economic mobility. Therefore, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated because of systemic gender discrimination putting mothers in positions where they cannot give their children better lives.
  3. Russian women face threats to their physical safety– and the police stand by. Domestic violence as a whole– which disproportionately victimizes women– is a serious threat to women’s rights in Russia. In January 2017, Russia decriminalized domestic violence that does not cause serious injury– meaning broken bones or a concussion– for first-time offenders. Since most victims do not report their abuse, most “first-time offenders” are actually long-time abusers. In addition, police officers routinely ignore domestic disturbance calls. When officers do respond, they often refuse to criminally prosecute instead of telling victims to prosecute privately. This is economically unfeasible for many women and effectively places the onus of an entire subgroup of law enforcement on the victim rather than the state. Decriminalization of domestic violence has rendered the statistics on it unreliable, but statistics have shown that most cases do not end up in court. If women cannot receive the assurance of their physical safety under Russian law and society, their overall rights are under severe threat.
  4. Learned attitudes reinforce gender inequality. Every Russian man that the Levada Center polled, regardless of age group, responded that the most desirable quality in a woman was that she had to be a good homemaker. This attitude pervades across gender lines: younger Russian women answered that attractiveness was the best quality, but by age 30, the women agreed that their most desirable quality was to be a good homemaker for a man. When pollsters asked the equivalent question about desirable qualities in a man, both men and women ranked intelligence as the most important trait in a man. Men, however, ranked intelligence in a woman as sixth or seventh on their list of 15 traits. But before one can solely cast the blame for gender inequality on men, women ranked independence as least important for themselves. Older women’s answers matched that of the men– the mothers and grandmothers teaching the sons their societal values. No one gender is at fault for the perpetuation of gender inequality; instead, it is a product of Russian culture and society that each generation has passed on to the next.
  5. The feminism movement in Russia is growing every year. Hundreds instead of dozens of women attend marches and protests now, especially against the controversial decriminalization of domestic violence. The work of leaders like Leda Garina and Zalina Marshenkulov has fostered the growth of feminism in the public consciousness. Despite facing arrests and threats, activists and organizations are persisting in getting the message of gender equality out to the public. Innovations in technology and social media make information more accessible to the Russian people and change the perception of feminism from a dirty, Western word to something necessary to Russian society. New venues are cropping up in big cities to aid women. For example, Cafe Simona in Saint Petersburg is a woman-only workspace and event space that allows women to go about their days without experiencing harassment. NGOs like Human Rights Watch also strive to inform both the domestic and international communities of the issues facing Russian women. Reporting by HRW and other media outlets on Yulia Tsvetkova, a feminist blogger who underwent and is a political prisoner, led to protests around the country. Despite crackdowns on NGOs under Putin’s “foreign agents” law, organizations are doing their best to get the word out about the situation in Russia.

People still need to do more to improve women’s rights in Russia. Nothing less than significant legal reforms are necessary to change the culture of misogyny in the country. Gender equality might be a long way off for Russian women, but because of activists and NGOs fighting for their rights under the law, hope is on the horizon.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Reducing Poverty in Russia
Russia is the largest country in the world by landmass, and it covers an expansive 6.6 million miles. The country spans from Europe to Asia and shares 14 borders with neighboring states: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Norway, Poland and Ukraine. Despite the size of the country, it has a modest population of nearly 146 million people. However, poverty has taken a toll on the country’s people and reducing poverty in Russia will not be an easy task. An estimated 22% live in the “poverty zone,” which refers to the people unable to purchase anything other than items for subsisting. Furthermore, one-fifth of the total population lives in poverty, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has devised a plan to halve the poverty rate by 2024.

Poverty in the Soviet Union

The dissolution of the Soviet Union began on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall, a structure intended to separate communist occupied East Germany from the west, came down. However, The Soviet Union dissolved on December 26, 1991, when Boris Yeltsin, the newly appointed Russian president, seized the reigns of an independent Russia from Mikhail Gorbachev.

Fifteen republics comprised the Soviet Union, and “at least 20 percent of the population” lived in poverty. As of 1989, the poverty level for a moderately sized family was $339.24 a month, or around $85 per person. At least 5 million families fell below the poverty line, and 20% of the overall population received 75 rubles per month.

At the time, there were no state plans to eliminate or reduce poverty, and no governmental support existed.

Poverty in the Pandemic

The pandemic has created a downward trend in the global economy, which has adversely affected Russia’s crude oil industry. This decline in the country’s economy is causing the ruble to weaken and Russia to enter a recession, creating an even bigger poverty problem for the 18.6 million people still living below the poverty line.

COVID-19 has proven to be an economic disaster for the Russian Federation and the World Bank projected a fall in GDP by 1% in 2020 due to the pandemic. Moreover, the World Bank anticipated a rise in the poverty rate to 2.2% in 2020 in comparison to 2.1% in 2019.

Poverty is Different Across Russia

Poverty in Russia is widespread and varies for rural and urban areas. For example, densely populated cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg have a poverty rate below 8%, but in the case of rural regions, the Kalmyk Republic has 20% and the Tuva Republic has 40%.

People across the country experience poverty differently. In Siberia, villagers may struggle due to disproportionate job opportunities and little support from the state. In urban centers, citizens may lack proper skills to gain work or may have expensive medical bills, which hinders their ability to support themselves in other areas.

Reducing Poverty in Russia

As of 2018, the poverty rate was 13.2%, but the Russian Federation’s goal is to cut that in half. President Vladimir Putin aims to do this by 2024, reducing the poverty rate to 6.6%. According to the World Bank, the country would need a growth rate of 4.4% to achieve that reduction. The country could achieve its goal, but the annual growth would have to be 1.5% with the redistribution of 0.4% for GDP. Policy reforms that increase productivity and higher investment could boost the growth rate to 2.5%.

Russia’s progress at reducing poverty has been steady over the last decade due to oil prices, yet more work is necessary for it to improve. Additional assets could help push Russia, especially considering its low debt, energy resources and labor force. Russia is also ahead of other countries in space technology, which could bolster its economy further. Modernizing the economy is how reducing poverty in Russia will come into fruition. However, as of July 21, 2020, Putin has pushed his hefty goal of reducing poverty in Russia to 2030.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Poverty in the former Soviet Union
The Soviet Union, also known as the USSR, was a state including several socialist republics in Eurasia. The USSR formed in 1922 following the first successful communist revolution in world history. The Soviet Union disbanded in 1991 and resulted in the formation of 15 independent nations. Meanwhile, poverty in the former Soviet Union nations ensued.

Life Before the Collapse

The Soviet government in each of the republics aspired to equally distribute services and goods within the formal sector. However, gross inequality existed within the Soviet Union, which was similar to the amount of inequality that capitalist countries faced at the time. This inequality combined with shortages in labor and goods in the final years of the Soviet Union led many people to join the informal sector where people could not regulate distribution.

The government’s control over the centralized state dwindled. The structural frameworks were able to do just enough to keep most people out of poverty. However, the Soviet government signed itself out of existence in 1991. Millions of people fell below the poverty line overnight. Additionally, crime, corruption and unemployment became increasingly prominent.

One of the most foreign outcomes of the worsening economy was inequality. An oligarchic class quickly formed, as people made and lost fortunes seemingly out of nowhere.

Poverty Factors

Following the dissolution, market forces overwhelmed a state that had virtually no market involvement for almost 70 years. In addition, funding for government-provided services declined, which left many people without the resources to survive.

Social services that the government provided tended to be poor in quality in order to meet a universal standard. The framework inherited from the former Soviet government proved unsuitable for helping transitioning economies.

The Policies

Poverty in the former Soviet Union was most prominent in the working population. Several of the newly independent states used this to their advantage when making reforms. For example, a labor market reform that had a major impact was engaging the private sector in employment. As a result, the new governments introduced welfare-to-work programs to build self-sufficiency among the people. In addition, private companies were in competition with labor offices to find jobs for the unemployed.

These newly independent states also improved through reform to social benefits. As a result of decentralized government services, the demographics of a specific state or region received better-suited services. One of the most successful forms of social benefit reform was pairing conditional cash benefits with behaviors that encourage social mobility. This way, people could use the resources they received to specifically help their economic status.

The Results

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the soaring poverty rates have steadily declined. Around 40 million people escaped poverty from 1998 to 2003, although there is some disparity in growth between urban and rural areas as well as between different economic classes.

The nations continue to move from a centrally controlled state economy to a privatized economy. Economic growth has been most lucrative for helping people in the former Soviet Union escape poverty.

While poverty continues to be a widespread issue around the world, countries with transitioning economies can look to the new governments in the former Soviet Union. They are a framework for how the government can use its demographic strengths to promote economic benefit for the people.

Camryn Anthony
Photo: Flickr

hunger in the russian federationUnder the reign of the Soviet Union, countless Russians suffered and died from starvation. Russia has an extensive history of famine and starvation; these have plagued the country for much of the last century. The oppressive regime misled the world and hid the harsh reality the people of Russia faced. Fortunately, the future is bright for the people of the Russian Federation because the rate of hunger has consistently declined in recent decades.

6 Facts About Hunger in the Russian Federation

  1. Poverty in Russia today: Although Russians do not face extreme poverty as they previously endured under the Soviet regime, 12.9% of Russians now live in poverty. The current poverty rate marks a significant achievement considering the poverty rate was as high as 24.6% in 2002. In the past two decades, the Russian economy embraced the privatization of industries. As a result, the economy substantially grew after it nearly collapsed following the demise of the previous Soviet regime. The rapid economic growth and reduction of poverty effectively addressed the problem of hunger in the Russian Federation.
  2. Improvements: As of 2000, approximately 5% of Russians were undernourished. Since the Russian Federation modernized and improved its economy, the rate of undernourishment was halved to 2.5% by 2005. The improved economy led to a rise in industry that provided more food and led to a decrease in hunger in the Russian Federation. Rapid economic development relatively eliminated the threat of food insecurity and hunger in the Russian Federation.
  3. Access to food: Access to food significantly improved when the government opened its markets to the rest of the world. This subsequently reduced the problem of hunger in the Russian Federation. The daily per capita caloric supply is 3,361 kcal per citizen per day, marking a substantial improvement from 2,877 kcal in 2000. After Russia’s economy struggled throughout the 90s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new leadership allowed the privatization of agricultural land and opened the economy to welcome new business. Due to a series of tax reforms and rapid economic growth, the Russian Federation’s daily caloric supply is higher than some wealthy nations such as Spain, Sweden, Japan and China.
  4. Diet and health: Although fewer Russians face hunger than ever before, many Russians needlessly suffer from non-communicable diseases due to unhealthy diets. The vast majority of Russian people consume enough food, but the quality of food decreased when the economy shifted away from agriculture.  The typical diet in Russia meets the necessary caloric needs, yet substantially lacks enough fruits and vegetables. These food are required for a healthy diet, and Russian diets often include too much unsaturated fat and sodium instead. The country’s frigid climate and permafrost are unsuitable for diverse agriculture. Due to the fact that 70% of Russia is in a permafrost zone, the country must import what it cannot grow. The country addressed the problem in 2010 when it signed the Food Security Doctrine and focused its efforts on independent domestic production. Russia renewed the doctrine in 2020 to include more fruits and vegetables.
  5. Obesity: Russia significantly tackled the problem of hunger and currently suffers the health consequences that are associated with obesity. Due to the country’s agriculture limitations, unhealthy diets fostered a nationwide rise in obesity. As of 2016, 23.1% of Russian adults were considered obese, which leads to higher rates of non-communicable diseases. To address the problem, the Russian Ministry of Health has earmarked $56 million dollars to promote healthy exercise habits and reduce smoking and drinking.
  6. Life expectancy: Despite the rise in obesity, life expectancy at birth rose from 65 years in 2000 to 72.6 years as of 2018. In the past two decades, the life expectancy in Russia rose at an unprecedented and consistent rate. During the period of recent economic growth, life expectancy in the Russian Federation reached a record high.

At the turn of the century, the Russian Federation modernized the economy and opened the doors for businesses to thrive. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation faced financial peril but rapidly improved its economy from a GDP of $259 billion in 2000 to $1.65 trillion in 2018. The country recovered quickly, considering the collapse of the previous government, and the standard of living subsequently improved for the Russian people. The Russian Federation effectively addressed the problem of hunger and halved the poverty rate. Although the country still faces health issues stemming from obesity and a lack of fresh produce, the past two decades are a success story in the fight against hunger in the Russian Federation.

– Noah Kleinert
Photo: CIA.gov

10 Facts About Sanitation in RussiaDespite Russia’s vast landscape and numerous bodies of water, access to clean, drinkable water is one of the nation’s most dire concerns. Although the government has recently taken steps to improve accessibility and water quality, years of inadequate infrastructure and weak pollution regulations have caused monumental damage. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Russia.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Russia

  1. As of 2018, more than 11 million Russians do not have access to clean drinking water, according to the Russian regulatory bodies. Reports also show that roughly a third of Russia’s population of 144 million drink water with high iron content. While ingesting iron isn’t harmful to one’s health, iron in the water attracts multiple breeds of bacteria, making it dangerous to drink. Not to mention, high iron content will turn the water yellow and produce a foul smell.
  2. Although Moscow is the largest city in Russia, more than 56% of its water sources do not pass official water safety standards. A study in 2013 found high levels of sulfur, oil, aluminum and other hard metals in Moscow’s main river, the Moskva.
  3. Much of the pollutants in Russia’s water sources were dumped during Joseph Stalin’s rule, between 1941 and 1953. Stalin wanted the USSR to “catch up” with the western countries, and, as a result, factories forewent the usual environmental regulations in order to produce goods as quickly as possible.
  4. As recent as 2016, locals near Mayak, one of Russia’s nuclear complexes responsible for some of the largest radioactive accidents, speculated that the plant was still dumping waste into the Techa River. Mayak’s last confirmed case of illegal dumping was in 2004, and doctors have recorded consistently high rates of birth defects and cancer in the residents of the area.
  5. With around two million lakes and a quarter of the world’s freshwater reserves, Russia is not lacking any water. However, faulty pipes, pollution and inefficient filters have left much of the population without clean potable water. Scientists estimate that up to 60% of Russia’s water reserves do not pass sanitary standards, due to pollution and chemical dumping.
  6. Roughly 30% of the water pipelines that run through Russian towns and cities are in need of repair. The corrosion of these pipes not only stops them from working but can deposit even more harmful heavy metals into the already contaminated water supply.
  7. In 2010, the Russian Academy of Sciences created a government-backed plan called the Clean Water of Russia Program. This is Russia’s first and only government-issued program designed to overcome the water crisis. More than 2,000 separate proposals were collected and refined into the program, which was implemented in regions across the country. The program outlines goals to invest in improving water supply and waste disposal, protection for water sources against pollution and installing steel water pipes to last over 100 years.
  8. Although the Clean Water of Russia Program is a step in the right direction, many scientists have called out the lack of science-based data in the initiative. Reconstructing entirely new water systems may be economically favorable in some areas of the country while repairing pre-existing water systems would be more efficient in other areas. Some scholars worry that an inadequate number of scientists were involved in outlining the Clean Water of Russia Program, and the country will lose an unnecessary amount of money.
  9. Similar to the nationwide Clean Water of Russia Program, a smaller, government-backed plan entitled The Clean Water of Moscow was created in 2010 with plans to provide clean water to all of Moscow’s citizens. This plan was structured with the help of scientists. Since its inception, four water treatment plants utilize ozone-sorption technology to purify Moscow’s drinking water.
  10. Five years after the creation of the Clean Water of Russia Program, a study carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that 97% of Russian citizens’ water sources had improved in quality, and 72% of the population had improved and available sanitation facilities. However, improved quality does not equate to meeting water safety standards, and millions of people still do not have access to pure drinking water.

After examining these 10 facts about sanitation in Russia, there are still many obstacles in its path to clean water for all, including massive detrimental polluting during the 20th century and from nuclear power plants. In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin informed citizens in a broadcasted Q&A that access to water was still a prominent issue for the country, despite the launching of the Clean Water of Russia Program. However, through continued work, the Clean Water of Russia Program can make a positive difference in further improving clean water access.

– Anya Chung
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8 Facts About Tuberculosis in Russia With COVID-19 emerging as a global pandemic, attention has centered on alleviating its effects. However, this has posed challenges to combating other respiratory illnesses, like tuberculosis, due to the lack of control efforts. Russia has been particularly hit by this, where it has a higher sensitivity to respiratory issues. To better understand this and the solutions that might be used to fight both COVID-19 and tuberculosis, here are eight facts about tuberculosis in Russia.

8 Facts About Tuberculosis in Russia

  1. Tuberculosis (TB) is endemic, or regularly found, in Russia. In fact, Russia has the world’s 11th highest burden of TB. Compounding its status as a major public health problem is a rising incidence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). This means that TB does not respond to many of the antibiotics that are most commonly used to treat the disease. Russia has the third highest number of MDR-TB in the world.
  2. The severity of Russia’s TB epidemic stems from historical, social and economic factors. When the Soviet Union collapsed, health infrastructure and the economy declined dramatically. Poverty and crime rates increased, leading to higher incarceration rates. As TB is airborne, it spreads best in cramped and crowded conditions, just like those in prisons. These factors contributed to the rapid spread of both TB and MDR-TB. The Fall of the Iron Curtain also led to unstable living conditions, increased mass migration and exacerbated the TB epidemic with a 7.5 percent annual increase in new cases from 1991 to 1999.
  3. There is a close synergy between the TB and HIV/AIDS epidemics in Russia. The TB notification rate of individuals living with HIV infection is approximately 1,700 per 100,000 HIV-infected. Because HIV attacks the immune system, HIV infection leaves patients more vulnerable to infection with all sorts of pathogens, including TB.
  4. In the early to mid-2000s, the Russian government increased its budget allocation for tuberculosis control. Russia also received a $150 million World Bank loan, two thirds of which was designated for tuberculosis. Additionally, it received a $91 million grant from the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
  5. In recent years, there have been some improvements in TB infection rates in Russia. Cases of TB in Russia decreased by 9.4 percent to a rate of 48.3 per 100,000 people in 2017. In the same vein, Russia has recently experienced a steady decline in TB morbidity and mortality. Since 2012, morbidity or disability due to TB has decreased by more than 30 percent, and mortality has decreased by more than 48 percent.
  6. The COVID-19 pandemic is interfering with TB diagnosis, prevention, treatment and control efforts worldwide. It is grimly clear that Russia will not be exempt. A recent report based on analyses of several countries, including neighboring Ukraine, predicts an additional 6.3 million cases of tuberculosis by 2025 as a result of COVID-19’s disruption of TB control efforts. Progress in the fight against TB could be set back by five to eight years. Russia is facing its TB epidemic in a world where TB kills 1.5 million people a year, more than any other infectious disease. Five years ago, world leaders pledged to end the TB epidemic by 2030. In addition, in 2018, they pledged to double TB funding by 2022. However, the COVID-19 pandemic’s diversion of attention, funding, and resources makes the realization of these TB goals unlikely.
  7. Partners in Health, a nongovernmental organization, treats TB and uses a comprehensive model of ambulatory care. They treat every patient free of charge and provide care as it is most convenient to patients, bringing medication to each patient individually twice a day. Their close relationship with patients in this community based model gives their patients up to a 90 percent cure rate. Particularly, Partners in Health established The Sputnik Initiative, where it provided social and clinical support for poor MDR-TB patients in Tomsk, Russia. This initiative allowed Partners in Health to treat 70 percent of its total 129 participants who would otherwise not receive adequate medical care.
  8. Partners in Health has success in curbing TB by integrating TB treatment with the provision of other medical care. They have established TB clinics within HIV treatment centers, which is strategic as the HIV and TB co-infection rate among the patients they treat is five percent. Additionally, they have incorporated mental health and drug addiction services into their TB treatment program in Russia. A similar integrative model could conceivably be deployed for COVID-19 once a treatment becomes available.

Tuberculosis and COVID-19 pandemics present unique challenges both individually and as they co-occur. However, existing community based treatment models for tuberculosis in Russia may contain useful lessons as we learn to treat COVID-19.

– Isabelle Breier

Photo: Flickr

Why HIV and AIDS in Russia is Steadily IncreasingHIV and AIDS have increased in Russia throughout the years. In fact, Russia’s failure to implement government policy, education and resources has allowed HIV/AIDs rates to increase at an unknown rate. These rates allow poverty and infection to course throughout the country. According to estimates from the World Bank, more than 10 percent of the total population will have HIV/AIDs by 2020. Also, as many as 21,000 people per month could die from infection of HIV and AIDS  in Russia. Experts anticipate that these values will continue to increase by 10 to 15 percent each year.

Efforts

The Russian government has made minimal efforts toward eradicating this epidemic. Numbers show that HIV and AIDS in Russia primarily occur among certain groups of people. In 2016, individuals who inject drugs accounted for the largest number of confirmed cases at 48.8 percent.

Further, in 2015, government reports determined that more than 38 percent of newly diagnosed cases occurred in women. These numbers pushed experts to believe that heterosexual transmission would significantly impact the heterosexual population. In fact, in 2017, researchers found that heterosexual transmission occurred in 48.7 percent of the Russian population.

Additionally, sex work is one of the leading causes of HIV and AIDS in Russia. People’s stigmas with this specific group of people inevitably cause an increased risk for those who utilize this service. Sex workers are often unable to access health care resources to decrease the likelihood of spread, thus making it challenging to eradicate HIV and AIDS in Russia.

Barriers

The marginalization of certain groups of people has led to a reduction in the treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS in Russia. One study showed those who are living with HIV/AIDS and are injecting drugs are unlikely to seek treatment. Only 10 percent of that specific group has sought treatment. Some experts assume that the inaccessibility of information and denial of treatment or prevention services are the primary reasons for this low percentage.

Also, women who are sex workers are particularly vulnerable. Studies have shown the unwillingness to seek treatment due to negative opinions regarding the occupation of these women.

Another obstacle is funding for HIV and AIDS education, which is very minimal if it exists at all. Financial support for HIV/AIDS programs in Russia remains a significant barrier to treatment and prevention. Dedicated support for HIV and AIDS in Russia has decreased and no programs to educate and prevent the disease have replaced it.

Solutions

In 2013, the Aids Healthcare Foundation in Russia registered with the Russian Federation to ensure the implementation of programs to contribute support financially, provide education about HIV and treat those living with HIV. Russia made further efforts in 2017; the Russian Federation committed to a 90-90-90 target by 2020. This goal aimed to diagnose, update treatment status and suppress the viral loads of 90 percent of people living with HIV.

In 2018, the Russian Federation released a progress update, showing substantial improvements from 2017. Overall, 81 percent of people living with HIV received confirmed diagnoses, 45 percent of people who knew of the diagnosis received treatment and 75 percent of people who obtained treatment experienced viral suppression.

At the 28th meeting of the Health Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Ms. Veronika Skvortsova, the Russian Minister of Health stated that “We have to provide every person living with HIV with quick access to the correct treatment. The Ministry of Health plans to increase the coverage of people living with HIV who know their status on antiretroviral therapy to 75 percent by 2019, and by 2020 the figure should reach 90 percent.”

Rates of HIV and AIDS in Russia continues to raise concerns across the country. Without Russian government implementation of policy toward a movement of eradication, estimates suggest that the numbers will continue to rise.

Tiffany Hill
Photo: Wikimedia

Child Marriage in Russia
The minimum marriageable age in Russia is 18 years old. However, in some regions, it is common practice for teens to marry before the age of 18. Some may even marry as young as 14 years of age. For instance, in Moscow, the legal marriageable age is 16 and in Bashkortostan, it is 14, with underage marriages in Chechnya as well. In recent years, the idea of child marriage in Russia has sparked legal and social disputes between various communities.

In 2015, Putin lowered the legal age of marriage to 14 in Bashkortostan. This dropped the age of consent for special circumstances like teen pregnancy. However, the number of marriages is reportedly rising as teen pregnancies are increasing. Moreover, the public has agreed to the lowering of the age of consent. This brings up the issue that lowering the age exploits children. The problem extends in regions across Russia that are predominately traditionalists in their views and do not have close monitoring like in the northern and southern Caucasus regions.

Child Marriage in Chechnya

In Chechnya, reports indicated that an underage teen unlawfully married a man that was three times her age and already had multiple wives. The bride was 17 years old while the man was either in his late 40s or early 50s. The leader of the Chechen Republic attended the marriage even though Russian law does not permit polygamous marriages and child marriages. This highlights the pervading difficulties in enforcing laws across different regions.

Bride kidnappings have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell, Russia monitored other forms of social control, such as law enforcement, less. In addition, under Chechen rule, there has been a decrease in woman’s rights. Some even view bridal kidnappings as a tradition in Chechnya. The day of the wedding is often the last day brides see their families.

Many Caucasus states have reverted back to traditional social roles; women stay at home, especially in small towns and villages. In these small villages, people have accepted child marriage for hundreds of years. Some communities believe that their religion mandates it.

In Chechnya, there is no protection against forced marriage for young women, despite its illegality. The lack of control across the region explicitly inhibits the rights of women. Since the Chechnyan government runs locally, authorities’ biases influence women’s rights and child marriage. Enforcing laws in the North Caucasus region is difficult for Russia because of a lack of both executability and accountability.

Reports on Child Marriage in the South Caucasus Region

According to a UNICEF estimation, 7 percent of Armenian girls entered into marriage by 18 years of age in 2014. Unfortunately, this number may be much higher, since many underage marriages do not undergo registration. Women have little access to higher education. Moreover, people treat them unequally so others make decisions for them without their consent. Poverty and the familial need to ensure social status makes child marriage especially prevalent in small villages since marriage (and having children) can raise a girl’s standing and relieve financial burdens on her family. In Yezidi communities, children rarely seek out help for fear of suffering exclusion from their families. Soviet exceptionalism is a problem in this region, where Yezidis do not have to abide by Russian laws concerning the minimum age of consent.

In Azerbaijan, 2 percent of girls entered marriage by age 15 and 11 percent by 18, yet some believe that these statistics are underestimated. Bridal kidnappings are even more common. There is a direct link between bridal kidnappings and child marriages since early marriage is a threat to bridal abduction. Most families are more willing to marry their child off young than to have someone eventually abduct their daughter.

Russia’s Steps Forward

Despite the ongoing issues, Russia has taken multiple steps towards ending child marriage. According to girlsnotbrides.org, Russia has aimed to end forced child marriage by 2030. The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination on Women, adopted in 1979, is an international bill consisting of 30 articles that define what constitutes discrimination against women. CEDAW has also taken charge of the issue by spreading awareness, for instance during Russia’s review in 2015. The bill ensures equal opportunities and equal access to public life including education, health and employment. In 1990, the minimum age of consent was age 18. In addition, the CEDAW Committee states that partners must have full consent for marriage.

UNICEF is leading the way towards support for women in the Caucasus regions. The organization offers youth grants supporting education for women, hotlines and supportive services to girls, strengthens legal protections and promotes awareness. Along with the government’s initiatives to stop child marriage, Russia is taking the initiative to guide communities across all regions, providing solutions toward a brighter future for girls.

Joelle Shusterman
Photo: Flickr