Horns and hooves. Valery Panyushkin on the development of technology

18 February 2024

By Valery Panyushkin

Source: Spektr.press

“The national program to combat cancer, which we rolled out in 2019, is demonstrably a priority for interaction between the medical community, science, the government, and regional areas. In five years, over 500 outpatient cancer care facilities have been built across the country. As a result, now more than half of the different types of cancer are detected at an initial stage, when the expected response to treatment is as favorable as possible. Chemotherapy has increased by 60 percent and radiation therapy by more than 25 percent. Since 2020, we have been conducting proton therapy.”

This was spoken by President Vladimir Putin at the Future Technologies Forum in Moscow. Meanwhile, I’ve been hanging out with a young kid. A boy from a small Russian city, who needs this proton therapy that the President is bragging about. I was involved in this arena for many years, helping several charities that raise money for curing childhood cancers. Sometimes I still get contacted about this work.

The boy has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very straightforward cancer of the lymphatic system — easy to diagnose and easy to treat. So easily that the Russian healthcare budget doesn’t provide proton therapy for patients with this diagnosis.

But in that small city — where, by the way, there’s an outpatient cancer care facility, one of the 500 the President was boasting about — the boy couldn’t get a simple diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma for two years. His lymphoma is so advanced that nothing but proton therapy will work on it now, but the government doesn’t allocate funds for proton treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so his parents had to pay for their son’s poor treatment.

The achievements President Putin is boasting about are highly dubious. The quality of medicine isn’t measured by the number of outpatient facilities, but by the quality of doctors and medical equipment. It’s worth recalling that thousands of doctors — if not tens of thousands — have left since the war started. These are the best doctors, the ones who were able to find employment in other countries.

Moreover, the medical equipment in Russian clinics is missing spare parts and software due to sanctions.

The chemotherapy that Putin boasts about increasing is very toxic. The trend in oncology worldwide is not for more chemotherapy, but for less — for the toxic cancer drugs invented after World War I to be replaced, where possible, by modern, targeted, less harmful ones.

The same goes for radiation therapy — it was revolutionary in its day, but it’s very toxic and comes with many complications. The medical community worldwide is moving to replace it with a less harmful alternative.

And so it is with everything. If you look even a little more closely, you can see that at the Future Technologies Forum Putin was bragging about how Russia was able to increase the production of construction trailers, crowbars, and shovels.

Economic commentator Maxim Blunt recently explained the same thing to me about the Russian economy in general. It’s growing, isn’t it? It is! “But imagine you have a calf,” Maxim said. “And let’s say it grew to 100 kilograms. Isn’t that good? It is! It must provide a huge mountain of meat. Sure, but there’s a sensitive detail. If you look more closely, you can see that the calf just grew hooves and horns.”

Translated by Nina dePalma

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