Continuing with this story by reporter Evgeny Pogrebnyak. Where we left off, we were looking at the experience of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in handling the coronavirus pandemic. In this part of the world, including Russia, Covid seems to go hand in hand with Pneumonia. I don’t know who is right, because Russian medical experts believe that the coronavirus infection can lead to Pneumonia, but American experts don’t think so.
In any case, when Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan combined their statistics for Covid and Pneumonia, they found that the numbers had doubled. As in Russia, the majority of doctors believe that a Covid-19 infection can directly lead to pneumonia. On the other hand, when they specifically test for the coronavirus (in these pneumonia patients), the tests come up negative. So, this is a mystery.
A group of Russian doctors are helping out in the Kazakhstan city of Uralsk. When they noticed patients flooding into the local hospitals with symptoms of pneumonia, this all looked very familiar to them: “We saw infections exactly like this in Russia,” stated Doctor Sergei Drachuk. “We diagnosed them as Coronavirus Pneumonia without the confirmation of a covid-positive test.”
Local authorities were eventually forced to admit the bitter truth: There were more sick people than they initially thought; and the tests frequently give false negatives for the coronavirus.
The only way to cure a serious case of pneumonia is with specialized medical equipment. Of which there was not enough to go around. Individuals started donating equipment from Western Europe by just sending it in packages through the mail. And the same with Russia: There are a lot of Central Asian guest workers in Russia (primarily in Moscow), who started filling boxes with medicines and shipping them back home. Social media was enlisted to urge people to make these kinds of donations.
As for the Russian government, from the very start of the epidemic, the authorities have been helping their neighbors in any way they can. For example, with humanitarian assistance which, nonetheless, is insufficient, due to the sharp rise in cases. On July 18 the Kyrgyzstan government announced a new tranche of humanitarian aid arriving from Russia. This aid consists of 31 ventilators, 70 bedside monitors, 5 mobile X-ray machines, 6 ultrasound devices, and half a million surgical masks.
One thing this crisis had made painfully obvious to the Central Asian governments, is that their healthcare systems are not as sturdy as that of the Russian Federation. In Russia the covid crisis is on a downward slope; and moreover Russia never, even at the height of the crisis, experienced a shortage of medications. Journalist Yury Dorokhov wrote in his social media about his impressions:“My very first hours after arriving in Russia from Kazakhstan, was like a shock to me. It was like returning from the front lines of a war to the [peaceful] rear guard. People [in Russia] are relaxed and calm. They don’t even seem stressed out. I went into a pharmacy. Another shock: They have EVERYTHING. Well, you need a doctor’s prescription, to be sure. I felt a crazy desire to buy up everything in the store and ship it back to Alma-Ata.”
Dorokhov thinks that in Russia covid is sort of “old news” by now. Which cannot be said in regard to the neighboring state: “The Kazakhstan version of Facebook is full of curses, complaints, obituaries. Russian Facebook: vacations and travel, the riots in Khabarovsk, Putin’s political game, fun videos, we went to a cafe, that sort of thing. In Alma-Ata, the only thing people are talking about is the coronavirus. I have a ton of acquaintances who are sick with covid or this strange strain of pneumonia. Everybody I know personally is still alive — knock on wood — but many have friends or relatives who passed away.”
When asked why such a contrast between Russia and Kazakhstan, two neighboring countries, the journalist was at a loss to explain: “I have no idea. Russia is not that different from Kazakhstan when it comes to the form of government or political system. In Russia people don’t steal or take bribes? It’s funny to even ask the question. And yet the difference in the epidemiological situation is colossal. I have discussed this with ethnic Russians from Kazakhstan who know the situation in both countries very well. Their theory is that Russia’s massive use of PCR [Polymerase Chain Reaction] system of testing for covid might be the difference-maker. Or maybe something in Russia has remained of the old Soviet school of epidemiology. I don’t know the answer to this question.”
[yalensis: I think one of the reasons, as we discussed before, is the legacy, in Russia, of Soviet-style inpatient facilities, with lots of beds and inpatient-type equipment. Which is costly infrastructure and often goes unused, but comes in quite handy during an epidemic. And is an important lesson to be learned: Don’t put all your eggs in the Outpatient Clinic model, because you just never know…]
The exact same contrast has been noted between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
[to be continued]