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Ukraine: the government saves on balconies

Written by on . Published in Austerity: Less is More?

Little Dayana was treated to death. (1+1 channel TV-screenshot).

Little Dayana expected treatment but found death. (1+1 channel TV-screenshot).

10-year old Dayana went out onto a balcony which suddenly collapsed. Her blood splattered all over the yard of the “Youth” tuberculosis sanatorium in Simeyz (on Ukraine’s Сrimean peninsula). After five hours of struggle, the doctors declared her dead. Sounds like a cut from a horror movie, doesn’t it? But it’s nothing more than just another piece of news in Ukraine, unfortunately. Dayana’s friends were more “lucky”: one girl is in hospital in a grave condition and two boys managed to hang on to some fragments of the wall until rescued by adults.

“We warned everybody about the danger,” a high ranking local official said. “We published the “Sanatorium Black List” in the media, flagging sanatoriums of high risk”. So should a ten-year old have studied the Black List before making a conscious decision to become a patient in the sanatorium?

Every year, the Ukrainian Ministry of Public Health distributes free vouchers for health improvement among the children of poor families. But most of them have to undergo treatment in facilities that are little more than ruins. This is one blatant and scandalous consequence of the government’s austerity policy.

Government proposes to children austerity and ruins (1+1 channel TV-screenshot).

The Government offers children austerity and ruins (1+1 channel TV-screenshot).

There are about 38 state owned children’s sanatoriums in Ukraine with 9391 beds and by the end of this year they were supposed to receive 1.14 million EUR from the central budget for all their expenditures. In 2012 this  was 1.09 million EUR. Of course the government says: “We’re increasing  financing, aren’t we? 45,810 extra EUR a year is a lot of money!” But even the latest “increased” figure means just an average of 30,000 EUR per sanatorium, each of which takes in around 250 children. So every child gets treatment to the tune of some 120 EUR a year. This includes food, medicine, staff salaries and other costs, and the government has increased it by 4.8 EUR a year. And nobody even considers inflation and higher prices for communal public services. Is 120 EUR a year enough to repair the sanatorium’s buildings, too? Of course not! This was an expenditure item on which our government decided it could save money.

Ukraine is currently undergoing healthcare reform. Minister of Public Health Raisa Bohatyryova said that we currently have twice as many hospitals as we need. It seems that the government doesn’t have enough money to maintain state-owned children sanatoriums in a safe condition. One can understand this and maybe a reduction in their number could have saved Dayana’s life. However, apart from building maintenance, there was also no money allocated from the state budget for TB, AIDS and hepatitis treatment this year. No money –  and no questions asked. But how does the government spend the little money we do have? Healthcare receives 3.3% of GDP, while any  EU country considers that it needs at least 7%. And even this money is distributed in a very peculiar way.

Minister of Public Health never saves money on herself (1+1 channel TV-screenshot).

The Minister of Public Health never saves money on herself (1+1 channel TV-screenshot).

Since the new Minister of Public Health came into office, a staggering $300 000 has been spent on her office refurbishment alone (i.e. 10 times more than the annual budget of a children’s sanatorium). Her new – and now notorious – toilet has become the star of a TV programm, because it cost four times the monthly salary of a local doctor. Her son has his own large pharmaceutical business and his companies often win state tenders. His mother never helps him, of course, because Ukraine is a very corruption-free country: we barely make the 144th position out of 174 in the Corruption Perceptions Index. But I’m sure mother and son are among the very few who are feeling the positive impact of the medical reform: which for them means prosperity not austerity! They will be the last people in Ukraine to feel the pinch of any cost savings.

Small wonder then that instead of investing in healthcare, the government pours money into the security, defence and law enforcement agencies – whose budgets are almost six times higher than that of the Ministry of Public Health! The reason for this is clear: to stop the poor who might protest against the desperate situation and who might want an immediate change in power, because elections are often rigged. “Before the rich grow thin, the poor have starved to death”, goes an old Ukrainian saying… or have fallen to their death like Dayana.

All the screenshots reproduced by kind permission of the 1+1 channel. The source of the video.

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Oleg Shynkarenko Twitter: @OlehShynkarenkoOleg

Journalist, writer and Multimedia Producer from Ukraine.