A boat called Rus is a floating clinic. The medics aboard leave their families for 50 days every year to bring medical care to isolated communities of northern Siberia.
The people there are cut off from the world by the long harsh winter. The huge territories of Northern Siberia are almost inaccessible for up to nine months each year, the roads are inadequate and there’s no regular air connection.
The boat travels along the Vasyugan swamp and the river Ob. The river is an artery and a lifeline.
When the ice melts in May, friends and family of the traveling medics send them off at the dockside in Tomsk, Russia.
The medical ship was started by Tatyana Solomatina. She was a doctor in the region who was born and raised in a swamp village.
“I know what situation is there, what transport accessibility is there, as a doctor and as a person. I really realize that’s the only way we can provide (them) with specialist medical care because even if a man (from those areas) gets to here (Tomsk), there is no guarantee of someone (of medics) waiting for him,” said Solomatina.
Solomatina’s project costs US$200,000 each year. With this amount of money, the ship can be equipped with a wide range of medicines, ultrasound and X-ray machines, and arrange labs for blood and other tests on board.
Private companies and local authorities provide funding.
The 18 medics aboard include specialists of various medical disciplines. There’s a physician, a paediatrician, a cardiologist, a gynaecologist, a neurologist, a gastroenterologist, a ophthalmologist, a endocrinologist, a oncologist, and even a surgeon.
They provide people with comprehensive diagnostic examinations. If serious disease is detected, they send patients to hospitals in bigger towns for treatment.
“They (people of the remote areas) mainly come only to us. Children (for check ups ) before (entering) kindergarten, kids (for check ups) before (entering) school, recruits (for check ups) before (entering) army. They all come to us because they have no possibility to go to the district center (where are hospitals). So there is a complicated situation there. Without the floating clinic I think the population would decline very significantly,” said Yevegenia Enguel, a doctor.
After the end of the Soviet era, many clinics closed and medics left. To get medical treatment, villagers had to travel by helicopter for a few hours or by boat for a few days.
Now the free floating clinic comes to them. It provides all services and medicine for free.
Residents eagerly await the arrival of the medical ship. It’s the only opportunity for a general check up once a year.
The floating clinic has changed their lives.
The doctors who work aboard the ship find fulfillment, too. Many return to the ship year after year, encouraged by a higher salary and a sense of adventure.
“We work probably in the most unique place on the planet—the great Vasyugan swamps which are the lungs of the planet. That’s the endless, wide area with it’s own nature and people living here. The population density here is so low that you are more likely to meet a bear rather than a human,” said Svetlana Pershina, a neurologist on her 15th trip with the floating ship.
She plans on making the trip again next year.