As of May 28, when this article was written, Russia had 370,680 confirmed cases of COVID-19 according to the Johns Hopkins University Map.
In recent days, Russian health authorities have claimed that the situation could stabilize. However, serious regional outbreaks such as the recent increase in infections in Dagestan could compromise any slow recovery.
Under these conditions, the country's medical system is under enormous pressure.
So on May 20, the Russian Medical Alliance, an independent union founded in 2018, released an interactive map detailing the problems faced by hospitals across the country. A contact form allows medical teams to report a problem. Once the union team verifies these cases, they are added to the map. In less than a week, the map recorded 490 problems, many related to insufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), non-payment of wages, or lack of evidence to medical personnel for COVID-19.
Tragically, the map records the deaths of 268 health workers.
In the video below, Anastasia Vasilyeva, founder of the Physicians Alliance, presents the new interactive map and asks Russian officials to use the data to understand the true magnitude of the problem. It adds that other categories of complaints will be incorporated depending on the nature of the appeals.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pY7mOVbxN4 (/ embed)
The Medical Alliance became more important as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in Russia. Its founder, Anastasia Vasilyeva, rose to fame with her strong criticism of the Russian authorities' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic; It has also called into question the official statistics of COVID-19. Vasilyeva, who is a qualified ophthalmologist, became an activist after trying to contest the firing of her mother, and that of many other employees, from a Moscow clinic in 2018. One of the public figures she was appealed to was the important Opposition activist Alexey Navalny, whom he served a year earlier after an attacker threw a chemical dye on his face. Navalny supported his cause. Since then, his Anticorruption Foundation has fought with the Medical Alliance for better wages and conditions for the medical team, as part of his own attempt to engage with the independent union.
Like Navalny, the now-activist doctor, too, frequently shoots short, accessible and heated videos on YouTube. There is no lack of material; The Alliance of Physicians page VKontakte is brimming with comments from medical staff expressing frustration with their workload and supplies.
The plight of medical personnel has also been drawn to the public's attention by several recent cases of front-line workers jumping to death and throwing themselves out of windows. While some international publications have suggested foul play, more detailed reports from The Independent suggest that many of these incidents may have been suicides, most likely caused by the same conditions that are now recorded on the interactive map.
In a YouTube interview two days after the interactive map launched, union press secretary Ivan Konovalov seemed to have high hopes for the project. He said the EPI sourcing problem has generally been the easiest to solve in recent weeks: the Physicians Alliance itself has delivered equipment, and has also started a high-profile campaign on the issue for more than a month:
Самая эффективная, конечно, это публичность… Почему они все так резко заговорили о своих проблемах? Мы об этом говорили, наверно, три недели назад. Когда май начался, медики начали понимать что за Апрель нмкто им платить не собирается. И они начали к нам обращаться. Мы им говорили – обращайтесь публично. Все конечно же боялись но, по-тихоньку, одна больница стала публично обратиться, иторая, ит И эта волна, ну, может не очень правильно, но она как сама коронавируса распространилась очень резо Две неделей казалось, что ничего не происходит, а буквально за три или четыре дня, волна обращений. И на эти проблемы обратили внимание. Если просто жаловались, писали письмо к прокуратору и все, то вряд ли бы эти проблемы решились.
Interview with Ivan Konovalov, YouTube / VKontakte, May 22, 2020
Surely, the most effective is advertising. Why do they speak so directly of their problems? We talked about it, I suppose, three weeks ago. As soon as May began, doctors realized that no one planned to pay them for (their work) in April. So they started turning to us. We told them to raise the issue publicly. Of course, at first they were scared, but little by little, one hospital began to appeal publicly, then another, and then there was a wave of requests. And that wave, well, it may not be appropriate to say, but it spread dramatically, almost like the coronavirus itself.
Konovalov acknowledged in the same video that not all Russian doctors were aware of the Medical Alliance.
However, these public appeals from doctors are an ancient phenomenon among troubled Russian medical personnel. The Alliance did not initiate that trend. Neither did the coronavirus, the Russian healthcare system has been famous for its fragility for years, staff frequently complain about low wages and overtime. According to a Deutsche Welle report from November 2019, every year around 10% of Russian doctors turn their backs on the state healthcare system.
Those furious messages have reached a climax since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors from a dozen hospitals are shooting videos to protest the lack of resources. Alliance members, who have tried to raise concerns about state medical supplies, have been under pressure in recent weeks (Vasilyeva herself was arrested in April while handing out surgical masks in a rural town).
On May 7, the Sochi Police opened an administrative file against Yulia Volkova, a doctor at a city clinic and local coordinator of the independent union. Following a video requesting PPE for local medical personnel. He was accused of “spreading misinformation” or false news. “90% of employees go without masks, but I am the one who destabilizes the situation,” Volkova protested.
Volkova's protest is not unusual. In Ufa, several doctors recorded videos to complain about the general conditions of their work; others in Rubtsovsk focused on failure to pay promised bonds to medical personnel.
Those bonuses, says Konovalov, appear in most of the appeals they received through the interactive map. In early April, President Vladimir Putin decreed an extra monthly payment of between 25,000 and 50,000 rubles (US $ 300-600) for frontline health workers such as nurses, paramedics and ambulance drivers. Physicians treating COVID-19 patients were to receive 80,000 rubles ($ 1,000). The Russian government set aside something like 45.6 billion rubles ($ 619.7 billion) for those payments.
In mid-May, many doctors began to complain that they had not yet received a kopek (NdT: a kopek is a penny ruble). An online petition demanding payment of those promised bonds has received more than 116,000 signatures.
The Russian authorities seem to have taken note: on May 19, the Prosecutor's Office initiated a criminal case against the administration of a hospital in Armavir for non-payment of said bonds.
What is not known is whether this case was initiated by the Alliance of Physicians. However, the union's own social media is now celebrating similar successes by holding hospital administrations to account for the treatment of medical personnel during the pandemic, as shown in this letter, announcing a case against an administration. from a hospital in the Krasnodar region:
А вот и первые результаты! Медицинский работник пожаловался на нарушения через наш сайт, мы передали жалобу в надзорные органы, Роспотребнадзор провёл проверку и выписал протоколы на больницу и главного врача. Говорите о проблемах, это работает: https://t.co/iI71QSG7vo pic.twitter.com/cw4WHnVRi2
– Альянс врачей (@alyansvrachey) May 25, 2020
Here are the first results! A paramedic complained through our page of a violation, we have filed a complaint with the supervisory authorities. Rospotrebnadzo launched an investigation and opened a case against the hospital and its medical director. Talk about your problems, it works.