Engaging to improve Russia’s health
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the poor state of health of the Russian population has been a topic for national and international discussion. Life expectancy is around 15 years less than in most European countries, and HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular diseases and alcohol-related problems are all major concerns. The Russian population is declining, and inequalities begin right at the start of life – a baby born in Russia is more than twice as likely to die by age 5 than a baby born in Britain.
As grim as this picture may seem, much of the disease burden is preventable. The real problem lies in delivering public health initiatives in a country where many of the aspects of unhealthy living, such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and risk-taking behaviour are commonplace. Additionally, ensuring consistency of healthcare services and messages in a territory that spans 9 time zones and encompasses a variety of ethnic groups, standards of living and religions, requires an innovative approach.
A number of governmental and government-associated initiatives have been set up in Russia, aimed at preventing disease through encouraging a healthier way of life, and requiring effective engagement with the population.
So healthy, how great!
The Ministry of Health’s “Healthy Russia” project has a number of components, including the website www.takzdorovo.ru, the name of which has a double meaning – “so healthy”, and “how great!”. It is a portal for prevention-related activities and represents a communication channel between the Ministry of Health and the population.
Users can gain a greater understanding of disease risks through questionnaires, create profiles with health goals and progress charts, and connect with others as “friends”. The site offers information on healthy living, covering topics such as choosing foods correctly, giving up smoking and examining alcohol intake, as well as specific diseases.
Examples of information, tips and tests featured on www.takzdorovo.ru
The site is linked to Twitter, Facebook and the Russian networking site Vkontakte, and features running totals of users who have committed to give up smoking or eat more healthily for example, harnessing the power of popularity, which may help to normalise the concepts of disease prevention; additionally, there are a range of options for “liking” or commenting on articles.
Welcome bar showing running total and network activity
Users are encouraged to engage, with “likes”, comments, Tweets and shares
Interactive and informative sites such as www.takzdorovo.ru thus educate users about improving health and preventing and managing diseases, as well as provoking discussion and providing calls to action. They have the potential to develop further still, with “friends” networks becoming powerful resources where patients, the health-conscious and healthcare providers can interact.
Information on the network of health centres, including location details and a range of educational brochures is available on www.takzdorovo.ru. Health centres were introduced in 2009, and this winter, child-specific centres are planned.
The centres provide free health checks and advice to all health-insured Russian citizens. Attendees can choose to undergo tests such as assessments of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and disease risk; where the investigations suggest a health problem, referrals can be made to local specialists. Advice is provided on healthy eating, exercise, safe use of alcohol and smoking cessation, and each person receives a Health Card after their first visit.
Health centres are centrally planned, and across Russia have the same equipment and multidisciplinary teams. Some centres offer additional services, though, such as exercise rehabilitation and a “Health School” for children.
Health centres are a tangible aspect of the drive to improve health – in contrast to hospitals, with associations of sickness, health centres are proactive and convenient. Anyone can drop in, have their questions answered and be directed towards a healthy way of life. Whilst online engagement is important for raising awareness and enabling the Russian population to re-brand itself as health conscious, health centres can reach non-internet users, and facilitate further change in those inspired via the internet.
There are a number of other organisations that hold conferences and run projects for improving health across Russia, such as the League of the Health of the Nation, and the Healthy Russia Foundation.
The Healthy Russia Foundation currently has a range of engagement programmes, including a healthy lifestyle education programme for young people, Text4Baby, HIV communication training for healthcare professionals and HIV prevention initiatives, aimed at reducing transmission in drug users, as well as a pilot scheme for reproductive health.
It is thus clear that Russia is aware of its health challenges and is approaching the main problems in a number of creative ways.
Overcoming Russia’s health problems is a huge task, but engaging the population in prevention activities, and using social media-type platforms to provide information and normalise the concept of healthy living may provide a viable way forward. Digital media may be particularly helpful in driving change across such a large country, but other forms of communication and action are important for a diverse society.
As the focus of the current initiatives is preventative, it may be that a difference will not be seen for some years, but it is clear that Russia is an area where engaging with the population about health will have a decisive impact on the country’s society and economic well-being.
If you would like to have a conversation about healthcare engagement in Russia or other emerging markets, a member of Creation Healthcare’s team would be very pleased to speak with you. Simply contact us now.