Something of a medical crisis is gripping Russia of late, with billions of dollars of investment in healthcare being made and further investment to come in the future, perhaps affording room for industrial and medical gas demand.

A report from The Moscow Times highlights the poor state of medical affairs in the country and notes that inventive medical treatments are just the tip of the iceberg of the health care crisis facing Russia.

The country ranks a lowly 130th in terms of the effectiveness of its health care system and 127th in terms of its population's health, according to the World Health Organization.

This means that the country is not only considerably behind developed Western countries but also the majority of East European and Latin American countries with a similar level of economic development.

Russians are also seen as falling ill up to 30% more than others and just as in most industrial countries, Russians suffer mostly from cardiovascular diseases. The number of heart disease patients, 16 million, places Russia second in the world after Ukraine, the country’s Chief Cardiologist Raphael Oganov is believed to have said.

During the Soviet era, the state covered all health care expenses, and most of the population had access to medical care regardless of their financial status, The Moscow Times notes.

This state health care model, which is implemented in countries such as Britain and Canada, was rejected in 1991 and replaced with a model of obligatory health insurance, or OMC.

A recent case of an eight month-old baby boy suffering from heart failure has only exacerbated the sense of urgency for action in the Eastern Europe country.

An anesthesiologist was called to treat the baby boy but found no equipment to resuscitate. The boy needed oxygen but the hospital had no oxygen concentrator and, like many small, rural hospitals, also lacked a centralised system in which oxygen is shipped through pipes.

The hospital did have compressed oxygen in tanks, but due to the decrepit condition of the children’s ward, fire inspectors had banned them from being used there.

An inventive, though time-consuming and labour intensive solution to the problem was found, but the incident served as an example of the need for investment nevertheless.

Investment & growth driver
Russia is thought to allocate 5.2% of its gross domestic product to public health, around $561 per person, per year. In contrast, the US spends 15% of its GDP while European countries are believed to spend up to 10%.

An alarming 70% of the equipment in Russia’s regional hospitals is obsolete, but that is only the start of the problem for patients, the report quotes Tatyana Siburina, a Researcher with the Health and Social Development Ministry, as saying.

The woeful condition of healthcare is not the only cause of the crisis. Unhealthy lifestyles and risky behavior are killing Russians, especially men, whose average life expectancy is 59 - one of the lowest in the industrial world.

The government is well-aware of the challenge, making healthcare one of the four national projects eligible for billions of dollars in state spending in 2006. President Dmitry Medvedev personally oversaw the projects as first deputy prime minister.

Over the past two years, $9.3bn has been allocated for the health care national project. Much of that money was allocated for the construction of 15 high-tech medical centres across the country, new equipment for hospitals, vehicles, immunisation programmes and salary rises for family doctors.

Estimates from Spiritus Consulting see the healthcare sector favouring well as an end-use industry for the global industrial gas business. A compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% for the period 2006-2011 is expected, with revenues from this segment expected to total $7.6bn in 2008 and reach $8.2bn in 2009.

The Russian government will pump around $15bn into revamping healthcare over the next few years, Medvedev is claimed to have said during a visit to Italy last year.