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Russian health ministry could split after pres. polls

A Russia first deputy prime minister said Tuesday he would not rule out splitting the Health and Social Development Ministry into two departments after the 2008 presidential elections.

"I think that splitting the ministry would be improper at the moment for different reasons," said Dmitry Medvedev, who is in charge of national projects, including health.

The ministry has been repeatedly criticized, and there have been calls previously to divide it into two bodies - the health ministry and the labor and social development ministry.

Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov said in April proposals to split his ministry were being dictated by political reasons, rather than by issues over ineffective performance by the ministry.

Asked whether the Cabinet could be dismissed, Medvedev said smiling: "Any government in any place in the world is under that threat every day."

The Russian Health and Social Development Ministry was established as part of an administrative reform through a merger between the labor ministry and the social development and health ministry in 2004. Zurabov was appointed head of the new ministry on March 9, 2004.

Zurabov was heavily criticized after rising healthcare costs and reforms abolishing Soviet-era benefits led to drug shortages for veterans and the disabled.

Zurabov was also at the center of a corruption scandal in November 2006, when seven officials from the compulsory health insurance fund subordinate to his ministry, were arrested on suspicion of receiving bribes from pharmaceutical and other companies.



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