Russia's government proposed new measures on Tuesday to fight low birthrate and a dwindling population that experts warn has endangered economic growth, the country's role in world affairs and possibly its territorial integrity.
Speaking at a session of the Presidential council on demographic policy, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova said 14-year-olds will undergo more intense medical checks at school starting next year, which could help reveal possible reproduction problems and start treatment on time.
"More intense medical examinations of teenagers are planned to start from 2011 with the goal of examining their reproductive function and recommending individual medical courses, which would identify and treat reproduction problems," Golikova said.
A recent United Nations report indicates that the Russian population will fall from 142 million in 2008 to 116 million by 2050 unless action is taken.
Russia has sought to take action against the decline, which has accelerated since the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing economic hardships, to keep the numbers at 142-143 million people by 2015 and ensure an increase to 145 million by 2025.
Golikova said infant mortality in the country declined 6.9% in January-November 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, and maternal mortality rate decreased 18.5% between 2005 and 2008, although the rates remain high in Chechnya and Dagestan, and some other regions.
However, she said illnesses among schoolchildren rose 9.3% in the past decade, with more than 20% of schoolchildren having chronic illnesses and over 50% of teenagers having health problems that could affect their reproduction ability in the future.
Golikova also highlighted growing alcohol consumption and smoking habits among children.
The opening of more family kindergartens and pre-school facilities will spur the birthrate by 4%-5% and create jobs, the minister said. Many women in Russia stay at home after the birth of a child because of the lack of quality daycare facilities and remain on maternity leave for up to three years.
Golikova said ahead of the session on Monday that the birthrate could rise by as much as 20-30% through reducing abortions, citing gloomy statistics for 2008 - 1,714 newborns against 1,234 abortions.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who oversaw ambitious welfare projects driven by a recent economic boom as first deputy premier, has spearheaded measures to support foster families, develop preschool education, and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Programs the government has launched to tackle the demographic crisis include incentive payments for second births. Posters like those depicting a young woman with three babies and reading "Love for your nation starts with love for family" have been widespread.
MOSCOW, January 19 (RIA Novosti)