By Paul Goble
Russian health minister Veronika Skvortsova, says 70 percent of deaths among working-age men are alcohol-related, even though consumption of alcohol and alcohol surrogates has fallen in recent years. Her words have sparked controversy with some doubting the overall figure, others her claims about declining consumption, and some about both.
Skvortsova made her declaration in an interview carried on Vesti FM, but it immediately attracted attention from the mass media, health care experts, and political figures because the issue of super-high adult male mortality is one of the most important and most sensitive issues in Russia today (ria.ru/20190207/1550511336.html).
Super-high male mortality has long been a feature of Russian life, and bringing it down is critical for the country’s economic future and for boosting life expectancies. Russia has made great strides in reducing infant and child mortality – which have the biggest effect on life expectancy figures — but it has had much less success in dealing with adult male mortality rates.
Some deny her overall figure, and others insist that the same pattern holds in other countries. But some health care specialists say the real figure may be even higher than Skvortsova says; while other say that statistics do not provide any foundation for suggestions that the situation is similar to most other countries (regions.ru/news/2626330/ and tsargrad.tv/news/pivo_183124).
What has been striking and welcome this week is that discussions of alcohol-related deaths have led to a broader discussion of the reasons for adult male mortality rates, including economic uncertainty, poverty, and high levels of stress (pnp.ru/social/ekspert-ocenil-dannye-o-smertnosti-muzhchin-iz-za-alkogolya.html).
Those factors of course affect levels of alcohol consumption and are affected by it, but all too often they are lost in the fog because addressing them would both cost more money than the Putin regime is prepared to give to the needs of the Russian people and would involve a fundamental re-ordering of the Russian social and political systems.
That the discussion has moved beyond fighting over the figures and debates about whether prohibition of the sale of alcohol or advertising on television will solve the problem is a hopeful start. It will be worth watching whether Skvortsova’s observation has legs and helps to redefine public discourse on these larger issues as well.