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Is it impossible to live long and happily in high latitudes?

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Issues of common concerns have been recently discussed within the Arctic Medical Forum in Salekhard. In the opinion of the participants, a diagnosis for all healthcare systems of northern regions is approximately the same – staff shortage in off-road conditions. This problem can be solved. However, even the most advanced medicine is only a way of treating consequences. The reasons that cause diseases are much more important. That is actually why most presentations of the Arctic Medical Forum were devoted to the reasons of health problems of northerners.

Health islets opened at the first Arctic Medical Forum gave Salekhard residents a unique opportunity to get consultations from the best specialists of the country. They could find out the rules of healthy lifestyle in the Far North. After all, the northerners have enough problems to worry about. Leonid Roshal, a world’s famous surgeon, named the most urgent of them within his video welcoming speech. ‘Staffing problems, social and financial problems are very serious in your regions, there are also problems of access to health services,’ notes the expert.

High mortality rates caused by cancer, cardio-vascular diseases and various accidents make it really challenging for an average Yamal resident to live past 72. Obviously, the advances of modern medicine are not enough to improve the situation. Since their childhood, the northerners must know how to lead a healthy lifestyle in high latitudes. Just in order not to lose their only health before its due time.

‘Thank God, child-delivery is the same throughout the world – whether it is in the Arctic or in Africa. It is a great happiness that the nature has given us the strength to protect our offspring from any extreme conditions. I want to emphasize that natural conditions do not relate to the extreme ones. By extreme conditions I mean irrational actions of a human. That is why the first rule is not to overeat! Not to gain weight because obesity, hypertension and diabetes are the greatest enemies of modern people,’ – says Victor Radzinsky, the president of Interdisciplinary Association of Specialists in Reproductive Medicine.

Life expectancy of northerners, certainly, depends on adequate healthcare system in the local area. People from Yamal, for example, live much longer than people from Chukotka. One of the reasons is because the district managed to preserve its air ambulance. Since the beginning of this year more than a thousand patients have been evacuated by helicopters to provide medical services. However, the neighbouring Yugra region does not need air ambulance since their transport infrastructure is better developed.

‘In fact, the territories are very different. Our climate is certainly more favourable. But we have bigger population too. Perhaps, the road network is also better. Of course, we have a “heavier” healthcare system, it is more advanced and developed: more hospitals and more medical centers with high-tech equipment. I would say, we have a lot to offer for the joint use,’ says Aleksey Dobrovolsky, the head of Health Department of Khanty-Mansi autonomous district (Yugra).

Moscow medical specialist have proposed to take their Yamal colleagues under patronage. They have carried out three demonstration operations in accordance with the latest surgical standards. It was very quickly determined that the quality of Yamal medical equipment is generally not worse than the one in the capital. However, there is still an alarming lack of specialists in the area. Therefore, local doctors still cannot do without the help of “big” oncological centers. By the way, the scientists have concluded that the increase in the number of oncology patients attributes not so much to the worsening situation of the environment, but to the quality of diagnostics of such diseases.

‘Incidences of breast cancer are steadily increasing. It happens not only due to bad situation in the area or, as they say, due to some mutations. No, the quality of diagnostics is growing. I have examined the statistics of your region. A substantial number of cancer patients has to do with the improved diagnosis of tumors,’ says Igor Reshetov, the director of Plastic Surgery Center of Sechenov’s First Moscow State Medical University.                      

They also discussed at the forum another long-standing problem of northern medicine – staff shortage, which usually results in long queues at health facilities. The solution for these queues will probably be found with the help of an electronic appointment system.

‘In the conditions of the Arctic, modern medical services are also very important, especially such services as online consultation and the opportunity to make an appointment from another city. This service has already been in operation for five years, and it has significantly changed during that time. We have examined the needs of local people and managed to see our drawbacks. The service has been improved. Today we have a single electronic appointment system,’ notes Olga Belous, the head of Medical Information and Analysis Center of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district.

Modern healthcare system of the Arctic is becoming more and more advanced: new high-tech equipment is being bought and comfortable medical centers are being opened. About thirty new hospitals and medical centers have been built in Yamal for the last seven years.

It took many years to develop the healthcare system in the Arctic. During all these years the medical specialists have been trying to select the most effective treatment methods in the Far North, and to adjust various equipment so that we could live healthier and happier lives. Let us see, how the forum will help northerners in this situation.

Despite all the achievements of modern medicine people from the North are constantly being affected by a number of disruptive factors. These are not only polar nights, extremely cold winters, low quality of food and water. We also need to take into consideration so-called “polar stress syndrome” and peculiarities of northern metabolism. The forum participants clearly understand that there is no panacea from all these illnesses. Nevertheless, even people from the Far North have to live long and happily.   

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