Why does Vladimir Putin keep sending medical help abroad and start worrying about his own health workers?
Barely a week goes by without another Russian shipment of medical supplies to a country in need.
Serbia is the last recipient. On Saturday, they welcomed eleven military cargo planes loaded with medical supplies and personnel.
Last month was Italy. China and Iran before that. “From Russia with love” is now the slogan of the apparent Kremlin munificence.
Beyond promising the Russians a week’s paid vacation, and then extending it to the whole of April, Vladimir Putin has shown little sign of meeting the challenge. COVID-19 poses his country.
He seems more interested in the political rating than in the public health implications of the spread of the virus in almost all Russian regions, with community transmission in half of them.
He delegated responsibility to the regional governors, granting them more autonomy in their decision-making on how to fight COVID-19. This allows him to focus on what is most in his comfort zone, Russia on the world stage.
Imagine the fun inside the Kremlin when fans made by a subsidiary of the Russian state defense giant Rostec were unloaded on the tarmac at New York JFK airport this week.
They were part of a shipment of 60 tonnes of medical supplies – masks and respirators – to the United States.
Rostec is on the American sanctions list. Any American purchase of Rostec products constitutes a violation of the Washington sanctions.
There must be a delicious irony for President Putin that sanctioned Russian products can serve as a temporary balm in the United States in crisis. Perhaps a tweet from the Russian Embassy in the United States sums it up best. “Goodnight America,” he said in a photo of a city submerged in water. Kremlin lagging behind par excellence.
“The Russians had excess reserves,” said the President. “It was a very nice gesture. Was he worried about Russian propaganda? “No, not even a little. “
Talk to Russian health workers and they will tell you that there is no excess of medical supplies.
Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union has regularly and publicly called on the Kremlin to report the number of cases in Russia. On Thursday, she was arrested while trying to deliver masks and PPE to hospitals in the Novgorod region.
“The drugs in the country are terrible. We don’t have hospitals, we don’t have staff, we don’t have a medical industry, “she told Sky News two weeks ago.
“Of course, it is not good for the government to say that we have a coronavirus and these are the actual numbers of deaths. It will just prove that it was they, the government, President Putin, who caused all this.
“We will have a death toll many times higher than in developed countries because the medicine here is so bad. “
In the town of Syktyvkar, in the Russian Komi Republic, 53 people, patients and medical personnel, caught the virus in a hospital. Patient zero would have been one of the doctors. Two died, including a nurse.
Vasily Shtabnitsky, a Moscow-based pulmonologist, says infection control is a huge problem.
“I think Russian doctors have expertise in the management of severe pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). I think the main challenge is infection control and the lack of nurses and other staff.
“There are not enough intensive care and general care nurses, we usually need a nurse to patient ratio of one to one and I don’t know many hospitals with that.
“Many doctors and nurses are between 50 and 60 years old, which means they are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19,” added Dr. Shtabnitsky.
On Friday, a group of medical personnel at one of Saint Petersburg’s best hospitals posted an online video message requesting more PPE to treat patients with COVID-19.
As President Putin ponders his next delivery of international aid, he would do well to listen to the growing alarm from his own healthcare workers and make sure they are taken care of first.