OCTOBER 15, 1957
NEW YORK—In the Soviet Union today, free medical care is one of the things which I think is valued more than anything else by its people. During my visit, and through the helpfulness of Professor Zhdanof, deputy minister of the Ministry of Health, we were able to see much of the way medicine is organized to provide this care.
The divisions in the health ministry include pediatrics, maternity and child welfare, gynecology, school hygiene, labor hygiene and other branches. Professor Zhdanof told us that the general rules are made in Moscow and must be followed in all the agencies throughout the country, but these laws and rules are adjusted to different localities by the local officials.
To become a doctor in the Soviet Union you must study six years after ten-year school, and then give three years to the state. Three types are trained—medical doctors, pediatricians and sanitation doctors. After the three years given to the government, a young doctor is free to choose his specialty. We were interested to find that a doctor is not supposed to work more than a six-hour day.
There is a medical center in every district in the Soviet Union for the care of mothers and children. We visited a number of these, and I can best describe them by telling you what is done in a district center in Leningrad. They deal only with healthy children and their mothers; if a child needs medical care, it is sent to a hospital. This district has 19,000 children. There are three nurseries in the city, and four outside where children are sent for their health. They have 18 kindergartens and 11 schools. They have 90 people on their medical staff, with 51 doctors who have 300 children each under their care. A doctor spends 2 hours in the center and 4 hours visiting. A specialist spends 5½ hours in his office.
In this particular district only one child under a year old died last year, and only 4 children under 16 died. They have no venereal disease and no prostitution in this district. There are 35 to 40 similar centers in Leningrad alone, with 2,000 doctors devoting themselves purely to preventive medicine.
You must keep in mind that in this preventive medicine setup the individual is obliged to do certain things. A mother must go to the center for pre-natal instruction and care. She has a given number of days off before the baby is born and 57 days afterward, during which she is paid and does not have to go to her job. During the first month the district doctor will visit her once and the nurse three times if all is going smoothly. Then the mother must take the baby once a month to the center, where both she and the baby are examined. Dental care is given, and any other serious condition will be discovered and the baby sent to the proper place for care.
That monthly visit and supervision goes on until the child is 17 and has finished ten-year school. Because the basic setup in the Soviet Union makes it possible for mother and father both to work, the schools take the children to camp for two months every summer. Every worker has a month's holiday, and if they are in need of any special care they will be sent to one of the many sanitariums.
We visited Socchi where there are 50 sanitariums, some owned by government industries, many owned by trade unions. If a doctor certifies the need for a worker to go to a sanitarium during his month's vacation, 70 percent of the cost is paid by the union. The worker will only bear the cost of transportation, which is made low, and 30 percent of his holiday expenses. In cases of serious illness, the time spent in a special hospital or sanitarium is not counted as vacation time.
Socchi is quite a remarkable rest place. They have what I think is a very good arrangement whereby they permit either men or women workers who are going to a sanitarium to take husband or wife with them. If the husband and wife do not happen to work in the same place, one of them will have to pay the full amount for the time of stay. On the whole, it seems to be quite possible for many of the workers to do this. We saw husbands and wives enjoying the beach at Socchi, lying in the sun and taking a complete rest.
The Black Sea is quite beautiful. Its beaches are pebbly, not sandy, and the swimming looked good to me. The combination of mountains coming down into the sea is very beautiful. The people place great stress on their holidays, and in fact I never realized how important holidays were until I heard them discussing it in the Soviet Union!