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4 May, 2009 08:29

Dentist ventures where doctors fear to tread

Russia provides free universal health care for everyone. However, healthcare in some remote areas is in need of reform and funding, but help is nearly always at hand in the form of the country doctor.

The equipment in rural hospitals may not be state of the art, but for the patients who come to one of them it is the care that they receive which counts. Anatoly Varaksin works in Akhmetovskaya – a small Cossack village in Southern Russia, made up mostly of farmers.

He is officially a dentist, but because he works in such a remote area he often doubles up as a doctor – a situation which is not unusual across rural Russia.

“The clinic is not like in Moscow or in Israel, but we provide a quality service to all villagers,” Anatoly explains.

When Anatoly isn’t fixing people’s teeth, he draws on his wider medical training to look after people’s health, as the nearest city is 50 kilometers away, so when someone gets ill, Anatoly is the first port of call.

“The doctors gave me a wrong diagnosis and it almost killed me, and Anatoly was the only one who saved me. And he’s a good dentist too,” Alventina Moroz, a local resident, said.

It is a demanding job, but Anatoly says local knowledge is the key. You can only do it if you understand the area and its people:

“You have to know each dog on the chain, and the dog has to know you.”

It has been 30 years since Anatoly started his career, but he says his patients need him so much that he is not planning to quit any time soon.

Anatoly's patients live in three villages, meaning his patient base is just over 3000 people in total. Some areas are very hard to reach, since they are either in the mountains or in the woods.

The doctor visits those in need, even if it requires an off-road ambulance. Unlike doctors in prestigious private clinics, he doesn’t charge extra for his services, living on his dentist’s wage alone. Anatoly says that seeing his patients in good health is the only reward he needs.