System failure: Why children die in Ukrainian schools

Victoria Babich
19:20, 10 September 2018
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Recently, reports on another absurd death of a first-grader at the PE class rocked Volyn region and the whole country.

At the moment, doctors believe that the death was a result of heart failure.

Actually, there's nothing really surprising here – after all, cardiovascular diseases are the root cause of about 80% of all deaths in Ukraine, including among school kids. Of course, there are some "exceptions": a student died at a Kyiv school several years ago while doing his running routine at a PE class. Only later did the doctors reveal that the kid in fact had pneumonia and simply, and tragically, ran out of breath.

There is a system that should prevent school casualties

However, every time a case like this is reported, everyone asks the same question - who is to blame and was it possible to prevent the tragedy?

Some say, in an authoritarian Russia, there's an easy answer to the first question – in almost all cases it's the parents who are blamed. It is they who are responsible for the health of their child.

In Ukraine, everything is much more complicated, although there is a certain system which should prevent tragic accidents at schools, especially at PE classes.

So, let's start with the first link of the system – the parents. It seems to me that often most parents closely guard their children, sometimes even to an unnecessary level. Personally, if I only had a sneeze or coughed, my parents would immediately tell me to skip the gym. They would write notes to teachers, reporting that their child was sick.

I am sure that many of my peers will confirm that this is what most parents do. However, I admit that there can be exceptions, where parents are harsh on their kids, even when the latter fall ill.

Now - the second link of the system, the doctors. Here everything is much more complicated. The fact is that before each academic year, all student must undergo medical examination and obtain a certificate that they are "healthy" or "partially healthy," thus fit for classes. But this procedure, unfortunately, is rather a formality in our country. Parents stand in huge lines first to their district doctor, then to specialized doctors - a cardiologist, endocrinologist, orthopedist, etc. - so that they all look at their child for a minute, ask if there are any "complaints," and put the "healthy" stamp.

By the way, in such cases I would always wonder how a cardiologist could diagnose someone without doing a cardiogram?

And now, imagine some meticulous parents who demand that a cardiogram be done. You have no idea how many circles of hell you have to overcome to get what you want. After all, there are not many offices where they do this. For example, doctors would tell my mom that "You'll have to wait in line for 2-3 months to get an ultrasound and a cardiogram!" And this was in Kyiv's Obolon district. I think that in the regions, the situation is even worse.

Cardiovascular diseases are the root cause of about 80% of all deaths in Ukraine, including among school kids

I'm not even talking about the fact that in that Obolon district, there's a striking lack of qualified cardiologists. Besides, they could go on vacation or report sick, and then it would be… a therapist who would sign health papers for his colleague.

Or here's another example. Being in grade 11, at the beginning of the school year, I decided to show off my independence and turned to an orthopedist for a consultation on my hip joints. (Earlier in my childhood, doctors diagnosed me with dysplasia of hip joints). But the doctor just took my record and automatically wrote "healthy" without any deliberation. She did not even bother to read my previous records.

Hearing me ask her to arrange an X-ray for me, she hissed: "Honey, I know better what you need and what you don't. You don't need more radiation. This is very dangerous for your health."

No wonder that such attitude has for a long time discouraged me from going to doctors.

But, let's say, you passed your "medical exam," and after a meticulous check, your health papers say "special group required for PE class." Do you think your problems are over? Not at all! That's because you whether you have a certificate or not, no one has canceled the grades. Back in my days, a PE teacher would give me bad grades for long jumps, although I was in a special group and didn't have to jump at all. The same thing was with 60 m runs and jumping rope. You are not supposed to do those exercises with dysplasia of hip joints. But still, you will probably do your best to get better grades, right?

And now, imagine that those suffering from heart problems face exactly the same issues. The doctors might diagnose them and give recommendations, but the teachers might not care. Conflicts arise. Parents complain to a school administration, which reprimands teachers, who in turn drive their anger on students...

Unfortunately, my case is not isolated. Even a simple poll among my friends showed that everyone had issues at PE classes.

But is it possible to fight this problem somehow? How can this be fixed? I have no idea. The school is, first of all, about the people.  Old-school type teachers are unlikely to change their attitude amid new orders, regulations, and laws. Therefore, if you are a boy, you must do 50 pushups, and if you are a girl – it's 100 rope jumps. And no one is willing to take into account each student's health issues.

The same applies to doctors. I'm not sure yet whether any healthcare reform is able to make absolutely all doctors perform their duties professionally.

Perhaps, strengthening responsibility might help. For example, in relation to doctors - for putting their signature without an actual physical examination; to PE teachers - for excessive pressure without any grounds for it. But of course, it is necessary to investigate each case individually and establish who is to blame.

By the way, let's see who will be found responsible for the death of a first-grader in Volyn.

Victoria Babich is a student at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

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