Visit to healthcare facilities in Minsk District

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Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited healthcare facilities in Minsk District on 20 October. The visits focused on the treatment of COVID-19 patients and the provision of medical care to cancer patients.

During the visit to the Alexandrov National Cancer Center of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko asked how efficiently cancer services are delivered in Belarus, two decades after the country started building a cancer care delivery system with the involvement of the head of state.

The President was informed that Belarus managed not only to retain the existing system, but also to expand the cancer care delivery system. “We managed to preserve the system that existed in the Soviet Union, and not just preserve, but to significantly improve its physical infrastructure and build up the capacity of the cancer service. This matter is always of interest to our foreign partners, since there is no such centralized cancer service system abroad,” Sergei Polyakov, director of the center, noted.

The system created in Belarus is in many respects unique and is of great interest for foreign healthcare professionals. “We can be a role model for many countries in providing cancer care,” Sergei Polyakov said.

“The system is up and running. This is important for me,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

It was noted that primary care visits declined amidst the pandemic, which affected cancer diagnosis rates. However, this is a global trend.

In general, the quality of cancer care in Belarus is among the best in the world across a number of parameters. There were 150,000 cancer patients in Belarus in 2000. By 2021 their number doubled, while the number of cancer survivors who have been receiving follow-up care for more than five years tripled over this period. The death rate during the first year after cancer was diagnosed halved (down to 42%) and remains at this level, which suggests a decrease in the number of advanced cancer cases.

New technologies and protocols are introduced, which helps significantly increase cancer survival rates and improve the quality of life. Treatment of patients having bladder cancer is a case in point, Sergei Polyakov said. The bladder cancer death rate more than halved, and Belarus is now among top three countries in this indicator, along with Finland and the Republic of Korea. According to Sergei Polyakov, the center has performed 11,000 surgeries since the beginning of the year. For example, 66 surgeries were scheduled for this day alone.

The export of services – provision of cancer care to foreign patients – was also discussed. Cancer services are quite in demand among foreign nationals in Belarus.

In this regard, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that cancer services of the same quality are much more expensive in the West. “‘Great’ West with its human rights agenda is obsessed with money. We cannot even comprehend it sometimes. They charge you for every this and that, they rip you off. We do these surgeries no worse than they do,” he said.

The President also wondered what is the likelihood of developing some kind of universal cure for cancer. Sergei Polyakov noted that there are already effective drugs to treat some types of cancer that can prolong lives of even advanced cancer patients for another 5-7 years and help them retain a good quality of life. However, there is no universal cure.

Yet, Presidential Aide Aleksandr Kosinets is confident that such medicines might emerge in the future and the work on them is underway in the world. For example, a drug to treat spinal cord and brain cancer is being tested.

The President also touched upon the topic of vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, the politicization of this issue in the world, and attempts to make big money on this problem. “Healthcare should be an absolutely international domain. You cannot take advantage of people's health [to make money]. Why so many deaths in rich America? Because the healthcare system was destroyed there, healthcare is a market where everyone competes for patients - the richer, the better. Here is the result,” the President emphasized.

The head of state also spoke about problems with combating COVID-19 in the neighboring countries where the centralized healthcare system was not preserved. “Take Latvia – it is a disaster. It is on fire now. Take our dear Ukraine - you see what is going on there, their healthcare system was destroyed,” the Belarusian leader noted.

Belarus decided to retain the centralized healthcare system and the time has proved this decision right. This system helps the country to deal with the challenges associated with the pandemic, to save people. “We benefit from good management, centralization, the vertical structure in a good sense of this word, mutual assistance and Soviet-style competition, not this cut-throat rivalry,” the head of state is convinced.

Speaking about cancer, Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed confidence that Belarusian scientists have the potential to make a breakthrough, which will be appreciated all over the world. “You are doing a great job when it comes to treatment. Yet, it is just as important for me to come up with some breakthrough solutions. We need to create something that will go down in history, and we are ready for this. We need to do something big, something that can save our own people and make the world say: Belarusians have done a great job, they have worked miracles,” the head of state said.

During his visit to the Alexandrov National Cancer Center, the head of state also talked to patients and familiarized himself with the quality of medical care they received. Aleksandr Lukashenko wished them a speedy recovery and emphasized the importance of the right attitude and positive thinking. “Those who live a healthy lifestyle and fight for their lives will definitely survive,” the Belarusian leader is sure.

There were foreign nationals among the patients. A patient from Odessa said: “I am so glad that I came to your country for treatment, I am grateful to my doctor.”

Immediately after visiting the nearby Alexandrov National Cancer Center Aleksandr Lukashenko arrived at Minsk Oblast Clinical Hospital. Chief physician of Minsk Oblast Clinical Hospital Aleksandr Linkevich reported to the President on the structure of the hospital, the work in the conditions of COVID-19 and the provision of medical care to patients with coronavirus in the repurposed departments.

The hospital has 947 beds: 410 in the therapeutic unit, 500 in surgery and 37 in intensive care. The hospital lacks space, and therefore some of its patients are treated in the children's oblast hospital. Plans are in place to construct a new building to solve the problem. According to the project, the new facility will have an expanded intensive care unit.

The President stressed that practicality should be the priority. After all, sometimes even the existing bedspace is never fully occupied. “Doctors always want to have more beds, more space. That is why when we are talking about a new building (and you want to have more than ten operating theaters there), my immediate question is whether we could do with fewer. Not because it is expensive or anything. Of course, if you need ten, it should be ten. But if you can do with five, then we will build five,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Minsk Oblast Hospital began to admit COVID-19 patients in July 2020. In January-September, more than a thousand people were treated here. The hospital allocated 220 beds for COVID-19 patients. Departments of rheumatology, pulmonology, neurology, nephrology, cardiology and surgery were re-purposed to admit COVID-19 patients. In addition to that, the clinic allocated 22 intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients in the anesthesiology and intensive care department.

During the visit to Minsk Oblast Hospital, Aleksandr Lukashenko entered the ‘red zone’ where COVID-19 patients are treated.

During the meeting with the personnel of Minsk Oblast Clinical Hospital the President thanked the medical staff for tackling another rise in the coronavirus incidence rate. "I see that you are dealing with many difficulties, as probably doctors everywhere, but you are coping with this. Therefore, I thank you very much," the President said.

According to him, some regions are witnessing a decrease in the incidence growth rate. The number of patients is still increasing, but not as rapidly as it was two weeks ago. "There is this general trend in the country. Therefore there is cautious optimism that we will make it through. We will definitely make it through," Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Addressing medical workers, the head of state stressed the importance of providing routine medical care whatever the circumstances, difficulties. "Imagine that there is a war and we are living in wartime. We cannot deprive people of medical care now,” the Belarusian leader said. “If a person cannot see a doctor in a polyclinic or is not admitted to a hospital, he begins to worry. Seeing a doctor puts a sick person, a patient or just an elderly woman on the path of recovery. Therefore, in no case should it be suspended."

The hospital staff told the President that the problem of the new building of the regional hospital has been pending for 10 years. The existing building was built in 1975.

"I was briefed about this project. I told the chief physician and the minister that the design should be optimal and functional. Medical equipment is something we cannot economize on,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "I see that the current design project has some excesses."

At the same time, the President noted that the project is likely to get his support. Moreover, China will provide financial assistance. "But please look for places where we can save: there is no extra money. Money should be spent on medical equipment, medicines, science, talented doctors, rather than on walls," the Belarusian leader said.

The head of state advocates a well-balanced approach to the construction of new schools and hospitals. He believes it is better to spend extra money on salaries of teachers and healthcare workers. “This does not mean that we will stop funding the acquisition of high-tech equipment or construction projects. We need an optimal approach here,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “We'd better give this money to people. We have recently built too many facilities - cultural, educational, healthcare ones and have overlooked the salaries of nurses, junior medical staff, and even doctors,” he said.

According to the President, once there were plans to build a large hospital in Minsk. In the end, the National Clinical Medical Center moved to Zhdanovichi while its facilities in Minsk were repurposed as a city hospital. “We built an absolutely functional hospital and the project cost us three times less. We need to implement a similar project here. We do not need to spend $150 million on the project. This money is enough to equip two hospitals,” said the head of state.

Employees of Minsk Oblast Clinical Hospital asked the President to assist with the allocation of a land parcel for residential construction.

Given the rapid development of Borovlyany, the head of state did not rule out giving it the status of a town.

"We need to take a decision on Borovlyany this year or early next year. There is a need to change its status from a settlement in Minsk District into an urban community with all the ensuing consequences. This issue is of paramount importance.  We have already discussed it," the head of state said.

He noted that in terms of population Borovlyany is already comparable to large districts in the country. "There are not many such districts. Borovlyany is now more comparable to a large town. Therefore, it is necessary to give it the appropriate status. As soon as you sort things out, I will make the appropriate decision. This town of yours is a nice place. You have done a good job. But there are still some things to work on," the Belarusian leader summed up.

One of the workers told the President that the residential issue is pressing for medical workers. There is an idle land parcel on the grounds of the emergency medical care unit. In this regard, the head of state was asked for assistance with repurposing this site for housing construction.

"I am aware of this problem. We implemented some experimental projects here and built a dormitory nearby. I said back then that if I had ever been offered such an apartment, I would have been glad. It was an experimental project. Doctors were very happy,” the head of state noted. "This is rental housing, but I know that some people want to have property into their own ownership and are willing to pay for it."

Aleksandr Lukashenko suggested several options to address the housing issue. “I live not far from the place. There are several land plots available there. We have allocated one of them for your needs. We need to take a look at the others. There is a plot of up to seven hectares there. The plot is in the woods. A resort-like area. We need to look into those plots,” the Belarusian leader said.

The second option is to allocate land near Borovlyany: “When I was approaching this place, I thought that if it comes to the construction of housing here, we can use some area in the woods. That is the second option.”

The President said that the third option was the one voiced by the hospital worker.

Aleksandr Lukashenko urged to make sure the construction projects are cost effective to ensure that the apartments are affordable.

“We will surely find plots to build housing. I have named three of them. We will need to think it over,” the head of state said.

During the meeting with the healthcare workers the President said that he was ready to get vaccinated, but with the Belarusian vaccine.

The President said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was vaccinated with Sputnik V, while U.S. President Joe Biden got Pfizer vaccine.

“We agreed with Dmitry Pinevich [Healthcare Minister] that as soon as the Belarusian vaccine is ready, we will get jabbed. So, please, work on our vaccine. I am ready to get vaccinated, but only with our product, only with the Belarusian vaccine,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The President added that the percentage of vaccinated people among severe COVID-19 patients in hospitals is very small. “We can see that vaccinated people are less likely to get infected, and even if they do catch COVID, they recover fast. This is a clinically confirmed fact,” said the head of state.