Russian, American healthcare systems face similar problems

Tommy Thompson, American Secretary of Health and Human Services, visited Moscow and St Petersburg. Mr Thompson held talks at Russia's Healthcare and Social Development Ministry, met scholars and representatives of public organisations. Over 60,000 employees work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was allocated $503 billion of federal funds in 2003.

Mr Thompson gave an exclusive interview to the Russian Izvestia daily describing the goals of his visit to Russia. Mr Thompson said that cooperation agreements in the healthcare sphere had been signed with the previous healthcare minister of Russia with whom he had developed wonderful working contacts. Mr Thompson therefore wanted to make sure that the agreements would remain in force and to meet the new health minister personally. Second, Mr Thompson is President of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The fund adopted a decision at a meeting in Geneva several days ago to allocate another grant worth $34.6 million to Russia for two years on efforts against AIDS and TB. The U.S. official wanted to convey the news to Mikhail Zurabov personally.

Third, President Bush wants his department, the largest one in the federal government, to step up aid to the Russian nation in addressing healthcare problems.

Mr Thompson said the meeting at the Russian healthcare ministry was very rich in content. They discussed various forms of cooperation in fighting AIDS, TB, cancer and measures to prevent those illnesses. Besides, they discussed the possibilities of the American pharmaceutical industry that can be very helpful to Russia. A series of meetings with the leaders of the U.S. pharmaceuticals market may be arranged in Russia in the future.

When asked whether the United States intended to launch a healthcare insurance reform, Mr Thompson said he had visited 35 countries over the past 3 years and believed that none of them was happy with the available medical insurance system. Russia is not an exception in this respect. Mr Thompson said all countries needed reforms and they should move further and share relevant experience with each other.

Private healthcare insurance schemes prevail in the United States, whereas in Russia state insurance schemes predominate. Russia is trying to adopt the best achievements of the private system, while the U.S. is working to improve state insurance programmes to ensure the interests of people without state insurance. None of these approaches is ideal. The USA and Russia should "marry" their healthcare insurance systems. However, even then the countries will not achieve an ideal option that would heed everyone's interests as that would be too costly.

When asked whether the marriage would be a success, Mr Thompson said it could be. He added that they would not divorce anyway, although it was not clear whether children would be born from that marriage.

Mr Thompson pointed to the problem of corpulence in the United States and added that it was facing Russia and Europe as well and was gaining momentum. The USA spends $155 billion annually on the treatment of diseases caused by smoking as 442,000 Americans die of such diseases /every year/. $135 billion go to treat diabetes, the disease that claims the lives of 200,000 people a year. Diabetes is one of the causes of corpulence. Corpulence is not a disease but it is a cause of high blood pressure, blood strokes and heart problems. It also accounts for more than 30% of cancer incidence. And it is increasingly cited as a reason behind early mortality.

Mr Thompson said he wanted Americans to change their life styles. He made his employees diet and lost 7 kg himself. Mr Thomson's secretary is now wearing clothes that is several times less in size. All department officials go in for sports and diet.

Mr Thompson recommends that people should not smoke, take more exercise and eat healthy food, which is the way to behealthy and happy, according to him.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team