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City Hall Pledges Billions to Fight Cancer
In an effort to battle what looks like a cancer epidemic in the city with Russia’s highest incidence of the disease, City Hall has earmarked 5.2 billion rubles ($ 2 million) for a cancer prevention campaign.
In St. Petersburg, two percent of the city’s population — or every 50th resident — suffers from cancer.
Yury Shcherbuk, head of the City Hall’s Health Committee, said numbers of cancer cases in the city have been steadily growing. In 1999, there were 80,000 cancer sufferers in town, while in 2007 the figure exceeded 100,000 people.
The lion’s share of the program’s budget will be spent on upgrading local clinics, with 1.7 billion rubles allocated for this purpose. The new program is also focused on funding additional amounts of chemotherapy courses, repairing local hospices and running early prevention programs.
“In many local hospitals, the facilities — for example, radiological equipment for chemotherapy — have become outdated,” Shcherbuk said. “Highly-qualified doctors have a limited chance of helping the patients if the equipment available in their hospitals is not sufficient to cope with the illness.”
Alexei Barchuk, chief oncologist of St. Petersburg and North-Western region, said most cancer cases in Russia are diagnosed too late for doctors to be able to save peoples’ lives when the illness has already progressed to a terminal stage.
“Part of the problem is that many Russians do not trust the doctors and contact them only when it gets absolutely unbearable,” Barchuk said. “On the other hand, many clinics are not adequately equipped to allow for a timely cancer diagnosis.”
Every year, more than18,000 new cases of cancer are registered in town.
In 70 percent of new cases the disease is in its final or advanced stages, Scherbuk said.
The official said that one of the main reasons for the depressingly high cancer rate is age.
“In most cases, cancer affects the elderly, and with over a quarter of its residents being over the age of 60 — and the proportion will soon be pushing one third — demographically St. Petersburg finds itself in one of the most complicated positions,” Shcherbuk said.
In men, the most frequent oncological disease is lung cancer, accounting for 19 percent of all cases, while breast cancer holds the leading position in female patients. Every fifth female cancer patient suffers from breast cancer.
Brand new Western medicines are becoming available to Russians but most people either do not qualify for a free prescription or the medicine that they need is not available from local pharmacies. Unused prescriptions then pile up in drawers, while patients’ families and friends struggle to collect the money to buy the drugs elsewhere.
According to research conducted by the Moscow-based corruption watchdog INDEM in 2006, half of all bribes in Russia are paid to doctors, and more than 20 percent of Russians have reported not being able to get the treatment they need because they could not afford the bribe for it.
St. Petersburg doctor Stanislav Dyomin, head of the charity Stary Gorod, said a worrying number of Russians have to resort to bribes in order to receive the treatment they are entitled to.
“If you fall ill or need an operation, the cost of getting yourself into a well-equipped hospital can be from $1,500 to $3,000,” Dyomin said.
“In some clinics, relatives have to pay to get the most feeble patients washed and their bed-linen changed. They are charged for syringes and injections, for treatments and medicines.”