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Health Ministry to be restructured, minister to quit - top Russian MP

Russia's Ministry of Health and Social Development will cease to exist in its current form and the minister will step down, parliament's lower house speaker said Thursday.

The State Duma approved an address to the prime minister Wednesday proposing that the ministry be divided into two bodies and described its current operation as unsatisfactory, but without pressing for Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov's dismissal.

Early in March, Zurabov, unpopular for the rising healthcare costs and as the architect of reforms to abolish Soviet-era benefits, promised to dismiss the heads of regional public health regulating bodies over a drug scandal.

Since the controversial law replacing benefits with financial compensation came into force in 2005, many cheap prescription drugs, or drugs intended for free distribution among war veterans and the disabled, have almost disappeared from drugstores.

Last month, State Duma Speaker Gryzlov said dismissals alone would not help address the drug shortage, and suggested that Zurabov's ministry should be divided into two bodies - to oversee labor and welfare, and healthcare and the medical equipment and pharmaceutical industry.

In an address to the premier, the State Duma said Wednesday the proposed measures should improve social support in Russia and help solve the free drugs crisis.

Parliamentarians voted unanimously for the address and also urged the government to take measures to develop Russia's pharmaceuticals industry and toughen administrative and criminal responsibility for counterfeiting drugs.


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