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Proposals to split the Health Ministry and dismiss its head have a political background and will not solve the problem with free drugs
Proposals to split the Health Ministry and dismiss its head have a political background and will not solve the problem with free drugs, Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov said Wednesday. Early in March, Zurabov, unpopular for rising healthcare costs and being the architect of reforms to abolish Soviet-era benefits, promised to dismiss heads of regional public health regulating bodies over a drug scandal. Since the controversial law replacing benefits with financial compensation came into force in 2005, many cheap prescription drugs, or drugs intended for free distribution among war veterans and the disabled, have almost disappeared from drugstores. Last month, State Duma Speaker Gryzlov said dismissals alone would not help address the drug shortage, and suggested that Zurabov's ministry should be divided into two bodies - to oversee labor and welfare, healthcare, the medical equipment, and pharmaceutical industry. "I assume the demand to split the ministry is dictated by political reasons, rather than by the cause itself," Zurabov said Wednesday. Zurabov said that it was necessary to identify demand in each region and reduce trade markups for stabilization. The minister said regions had started to receive money to clear the 2006 debt Tuesday. A total of 16 billion rubles ($617.28 million) had been allocated for the purpose, of which 10 billion rubles ($385.8 million) was soon to be delivered to Russian regions. "We believe we will also be able to solve the problem within the next two to three weeks by reducing the number of suspended prescriptions in a number of Russian regions," the minister said in a telephone conference with regions Wednesday. The official admitted that the developments partially resulted from lack of coordination between his ministry and regions. Zurabov said: "This is a tough period both for those involved in the program and politicians, who will soon have to give a political assessment of the situation as part of their election campaigns." The problem with free drugs escalated early in 2007 over the government's debt of about 40 billion rubles ($1.54 billion) to pharmaceutical producers and suppliers in 2006. The Russian health and social development ministry was established as part of an administrative reform through a merger between the labor ministry and the social development and health ministry in 2004. Zurabov, who received a diploma in cybernetics and economics in 1975, was appointed head of the new ministry on March 9, 2004.
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