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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
Health census for Russian children
Moscow school
Screening will take place in schools across Russia
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By the BBC's Sarah Rainsford
in Moscow

The Russian Health Ministry is launching a nationwide programme of medical checks on children amid growing evidence of a worrying decline in child health.

Russian doctor
The health census will only scratch the surface of the problem, experts say
The eight-month screening programme will send teams of specialists to schools, kindergartens and childrens homes to the furthest corners of Russia.

By offering free, on-the-spot medicals to all children, doctors hope to build up a clear picture of the health of the country's youngest generation.

The ministry has been jolted into action by some disturbing statistics.

Financial hardships

Less than one in three Russian children are born healthy and incidences of child sickness have grown by a quarter in five years.

Poor funding means that basic medical care in schools is less common these days, and financial hardships for many families means healthcare often takes a back seat until serious problems develop.

The deputy minister in charge of the programme, Olga Sharapova, says that focussing on childrens' health is vital to safeguarding Russia's future.

Medical experts agree, but they say that this health census - though welcome - only touches the surface of the problem.

The ministry will eventually have to address the root causes of child illness, and back any future projects with hard cash.

See also:

03 Nov 00 | Europe
Russians urged to improve health
30 Jun 00 | Europe
Russia: Drowning in drink
11 Jan 01 | Europe
Beer row brews in Russia
18 Mar 02 | Europe
Big rise in Russian alcohol abuse
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