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Russia's Flying Doctors

No roads, over 200,000 square kilometres of taiga, swamps and permafrost and a mere 16,000 inhabitants living in around 28 villages (or 0.08 per square kilometre). Turukhansk District in the heart of Russia, close to the country's geographic centre and straddling the Yenisei River, confronts local health services with a number of serious logistical challenges. For most doctor's visits and emergency situations, helicopters are the only year-round mode of transport that can get help to where it's needed.

The airborne medical service by helicopter is based at Turkhansk, the administrative centre, and Bor, a smaller settlement with an airfield. The cost of running the service is covered by the state and the flying doctors go on around 300 visits per year but it's becoming increasingly difficult to find paramedics and experienced medics to work in these remote areas.

Known as Mangazeya in the 17th century, Turukhansk district is a mix of cultures and ethnicities owing to its importance as a trading centre and a Cossack winter camp. Toward the end of the Tsarist Empire the town also hosted a number of political exiles that were to radically change the history of Russia including the future Bolshevik leaders Jospeh Stalin, Yakov Sverdlov and Lev Kamenev and the poet Marina Tsvetaeva.

Like other remote towns and districts in Russia's remote regions Turukhansk is declining. Its population has halved since 1989 and continues to shrink. The far flung settlements that are holding out against this trend need their flying doctors more than ever.
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