From Russia with “bbbrrr”” – Updates from Ufa

The weather forecast today read -14 ⁰ C (which is about 6 ⁰F). While you may be thinking “Oh boy, that is freezing cold,” my body has adjusted fairly well to the climate since I arrived and I must say that -14⁰ C is bearable. My breaking point is about -28⁰ C (or -18 ⁰F) , when my exposed hands start to feel numb 5 seconds after trying to take a photo with my camera. With a nice warm cup of tea in hand, let me now give you more details into my project that is part of a pilot collaboration between the cardiology and neurology departments of the Bashkir State Medical University (BSMU) in Ufa, as well as a brief update from my first week.

Stroke is a leading cause of disability, both in the United States and Europe. When the blood supply to the brain is shut off, a rapid deterioration of brain function results and the patient can experience temporary or permanent disabilities; paralysis of the limbs or the entire one side of the body as well as the inability to comprehend and formulate speech are common in surviving stroke patients. In the United States, where combining expertise from different medical fields is an integral part of health care research, collaborations between various medical specializations such as cardiology, neurology, epidemiology and physical therapy exist to help advance the prevention and treatment of stroke outcomes.

On my first day after meeting with Professor Leila Akhmadeeva, the head of the neurology department at BSMU, whom I have been in contact with since September, I had come to learn that such extensive collaborations are still in infantry stage here in Ufa. My project is a small part of a pilot collaboration between the departments of cardiology and neurology. I work closely with Larisa Bikbulatova, a neurologist, who has recently just started to interview patients who had been operated for CEA, to assess neurological outcomes and their quality of life following their CEA. I have added questions designed to assess the knowledgeably of stroke warning signs and risk factors, as well as detailed health behavioral questions relating to smoking and alcohol before and after their operation. Designing these questionnaire measures as well as getting it translated into Russian and instructing Larisa on how they are to be asked has been no easy feat! In any case, patients have been contacted and my questions have been added to the existing questionnaire which will be used during the upcoming interviews. We hope that the responses from these questionnaires will allow us to assess the current stroke prevention strategies being undertaken in Ufa.

As we were finalizing the stroke knowledgeably questions, we decided it was important to control for another two important modifiable risk factors – blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Thankfully, as it turns out, following a CEA operation the patients undergo a medical check-up once every six months. Therefore, we will also begin collection of these important variables.

As many of you may already know, Vodka is relatively cheap in Russia. Earlier this year, the Russian government raised the minimum sales price of vodka as part of policies aimed at reducing the high prevalence of heavy alcohol consumption in the country. At the alcohol section at a supermarket several days ago, I found that cheapest half-liter (about 16oz) bottle of vodka was about 110 Rubles, which translates just slightly over 3.50 US Dollars! In comparison to the vodka prices in the US, this is still relatively cheap. While I did not see many people openly drinking on the street like I did two years ago when in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, I did however notice many people smoking a cigarette or two while waiting at the bus-stops. As I try to keep warm during these waits for my bus rides, sometimes I cannot help but wonder which is the bigger contributor to this “phenomenon” – the harsh weather or the cheap prices of cigarettes.(The cheapest pack of cigarettes is about 20 Rubles (65¢)

Stay tune for more updates!