Story last updated at 3:54 p.m. Thursday, May 23, 2002

Homer Rotary wins $100,000 to aid Russians
by R.J. Kelly
Managing Editor

With more than a dozen years experience organizing local "health fairs" the Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary Club has been given a $100,000 shot in the arm from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help communities in the Russian Far East set up similar programs.

Cooperation and cultural exchanges between Rotarians there and in Homer has been going on for years, according to Will Files, who's helping coordinate the international effort.

As part of the geographically largest Rotary district in the world, the district stretches from Alaska far into Russia, Files said. Included is Yelizovo, Homer's Russian sister city.

In Homer and other American communities events like the annual November health fair put on in conjunction with South Peninsula Hospital are useful educational outreach and health screening efforts. They are widely accepted as routine programs.

Amid the widespread economic hardships in post-Soviet Russia, however, "for many people this is their only contact with the medical world," Files said.

According to Rotary data, the typical Russian man lives 13 years less than an American man. Alcohol is such a problem that 40 percent of men who die from causes other than cancer do so drunk -- with a heavy concentration of deaths on weekends due to alcohol poisoning and other drinking-related activities.

There are significant increases in cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes and drug addiction. The rate of sexually transmitted disease is skyrocketing, with syphilis increasing 77 times the rate of 10 years before, the Rotary reported.

Beginning in the summer of 1999, Files, fellow Homer Rotarian Steve Yoshida and Dr. Charles Masur, a public health specialist from Alberta, Canada visited Yelizovo and three other communities on the Kamchatka Penisula of eastern Russia to gather information and promote health fairs.

"That's where it all started," Files said Monday of the effort which resulted in the USAID grant that took effect May 1.

This week, Files joined Evgenia Klokova, administrator of a newly formed Russian Health Fair Center, and director Dr. Irina Roubachek at the Rotary district convention in Juneau. The Russian visitors had also been in Homer and planned to visit other Alaska communities this month to meet with public health officials, Files said.

Yoshida and other local Rotarians have been visiting Russia for many years as part of Rotary programs -- often at their own expense, Files said. Dr. Clancy Hughes of Homer has also been an active participant in developing interest in public health programs there, he said.

This week Yoshida was in California, helping to raise some of the required $25,000 matching funds the USAID grant requires.

In November 2000 seven Russians visited the Homer health fair, Files said. Yelizovo had a second health fair in April 2001. Last October three health fairs in Petropavklovsk, Vladivostok and Yuzhno-sakhalinsk drew about 2,000 people, according to Files.

After talking with officials at the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok the Rotarians found out that public health was a major focus of USAID grants through the Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation. Based largely on the Homer club's experience with health fairs and exchanges with Russian Rotarians, the grant was awarded this year.

The program aims to establish more health fairs in Russia, set up a Russian Health Fair Center and provide training to Russians to help them run and coordinate their own medical outreach efforts.

Most of the federal aid money will go for travel within Russia, training, exhibit material and modest salaries for Russian Health Center staff, Files said.

Given the confusion and widely reported corruptions and organized crime activities in the Russian Far East, the ethical standards of organized Rotary Clubs in Russia was a factor in the grant award, Files said.

In addition to high community standards, Files said, "the big thing that Rotary brings to the table is the tremendous network around the world."

Files plans to go back to Russia in July under the grant, he said. In October, several Homer Rotarians are expected to attend a health fair in Russia at their own expense.