Russia: A healthy access to medical care

Maria, who has benefited from Oxfam and GCAP's healthcare project in Russia. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

In the old Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, Oxfam is helping people to access their basic healthcare rights.

Maria, a plump, middle aged lady, wraps her black fur coat tightly around her chest and breathes deeply into her inhaler. A chronic asthma sufferer, Maria’s waking hours are dominated by this disease. “I can’t breathe properly,” she whispers hoarsely to me in between deep inhalations.

Plagued by asthma attacks, Maria had no choice but to give up her job as a cleaning lady at the nearby car factory. Living on benefits provided by the state for her disabled son, Maria recalls “I felt hopeless.” She coughs, “My friend encouraged me to apply for help.”

Maria is now receiving assistance from a local organization, part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), supported by Oxfam, which works to improves access to quality healthcare for people like Maria. Masha, one of the coordinators helping to deliver GCAP’s health project in Russia, explains, “This center is unique because we’re trying to change people’s attitudes and empower them to protect their rights.”

Legal volunteers help deal with the authorities

Before this support, Maria had to undergo continuous medical examinations to prove whether she was eligible to register as legally disabled. Maria remembers, “It was a humiliating experience – I felt dejected each time I was refused.” But with support from legal volunteers, Maria was able to submit complaints to the local authorities. One year on, Maria is now legally registered as disabled and receiving additional benefits such as free medicine and regular treatment.

Maria is one of thousands of people in Russia who are fighting for their rights to be recognized as legally disabled. But in a country where many view the healthcare system as inefficient and inequitable, the disabled face an uphill battle. Many lack awareness about their health rights and information from the government often doesn’t reach the people that need it most.

For the older generation, the soviet healthcare system is remembered through rose-tinted glasses. Tamara, 83, who is also seeking support at this center, recalls, “Back in the soviet times everybody received help.”

Assistance with daily chores

Tamara, a widowed pensioner with a tragic past, has to come to the center for assistance during the harsh winter months. Crippled with back pain after caring for her paralyzed husband, Tamara was legally confirmed as disabled 13 years ago. Living on the fifth floor of a soviet style apartment, Tamara struggles to climb the stairs and carry out daily chores. Tamara is receiving assistance from volunteers provided by the center to support her in routine jobs.

“The volunteers made me very happy,” she chuckles, her face momentarily illuminated before the back pain appears again. Tamara explains, “This center is really important as there are so many permanently disabled people in Russia who are in desperate need of support.”

For Maria and Tamara this center is a lifeline, uniting people facing similar issues to empower them to solve their own problems and help others. Maria smiles, her gold front tooth glinting in the light, “Thanks to this center, I feel alive again and want to help others facing a similar situation.”

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Oxfam's work in Russia

Oxfam's Health & Education For All campaign