Geographically the largest nation in the world, Russia is known as a formidable global power. However, in terms of medical care, only 7% of GDP is spent on health, lagging significantly behind the world average of 10%. With that, the impact of this policy is seen in the prevalence of several disease outbreaks throughout the country.
Here are the top diseases in Russia:
- Heart Disease. Amounting to approximately 737,000 fatalities in 2012, Ischemic Heart Disease or Coronary Artery Disease is the leading cause of death in Russia. Historical reports show diagnoses increased by 30% in the 1990s, reportedly brought about by a combination of economic factors and worsening nutritional habits. These rates have been sustained since and remain the ninth highest in the world.
- Tuberculosis. According to the State Department, Tuberculosis is endemic in Russia, and there is a rising incidence of multi-drug-resistant strains of TB. The disease is an airborne bacterial infection that can be transmitted by breathing contaminated air droplets from coughing and sneezing or by ingesting unpasteurized milk from infected cows. While more than 90 percent of infected people do not experience symptoms, the bacteria can remain inactive in the system for many years. Cases in Russia have frequently been reported around forms of public transportation.
- Encephalitis. Encephalitis refers to a viral infection that causes swelling of the brain. The most common instances reported in Russia are tick-borne encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis transmitted by mosquitoes. The disease is found throughout Siberia and another major outbreak has been occurring in eastern areas of the country near Vladivostok. Symptoms can be neurological or flu-like, and the risk has been shifting northward due to climate change.
- HIV/AIDS. Russia is unique within the European region as the only area still reporting rising infection rates of HIV. According to the World Health Organization, more than one million people live with HIV in Russia and it represents the third leading cause of death in the country. Cases are transmitted primarily by sexual contact and increasing drug use. Further, another contributing obstacle is the government’s refusal to acknowledge scientific research regarding treatments such as Opioid Substitution Therapy. These are dismissed as being too “narcoliberal” while other health programs simply receive no funding or are punishable with jail time.
- Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Including syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and hepatitis, many of the top diseases in Russia are also sexually transmitted. These diseases are passed on via bacteria, viruses or parasites through sexual contact, and can manifest with a variety of symptoms. Increasing rates in Russia are due to poor health education and a prominent sex tourism industry.
- Rabies. Due to the vast wilderness, rabies is another common disease in regions with many mammals where people could be easily scratched or bitten. Untreated, rabies is the most lethal on the list due to how quickly it attacks the nervous system. Of note, some remote areas with known outbreaks do offer daily vaccines, but health reports indicate these are unsafe and often result in serious side effects.
- Regional Diseases. Given the immense size of Russia, there are also many diseases that are only prevalent in specific areas of the country. Soil-transmitted helminths, or parasitic worms that live in the gastrointestinal system and lungs, are frequently reported near the Caucasus region. A West Nile outbreak also recently took place in more than eight southwestern states. Spread from cattle to humans via bacteria, anthrax is known around the Yamal peninsula. Finally, transmissions of Lyme disease from infected ticks are common in the Ural Mountains.
Combined with shortages of medical supplies and inadequate standards, this list highlights a number of public health challenges for the country. While not exhaustive, many of the top diseases in Russia are treatable or preventable. Therefore, many solutions could be as easy as allocating proper funding and taking reasonable precautions in risk-prone areas.
– Zack Machuga