Letters to the editor

Race killings wrong, but so are double standards
Ailing health sector to be gutted?

Race killings wrong, but so are double standards

Dear Editor,
Regarding your article ("Racial beatings increase", Vol. 6 No. 49, December 25 - January 7), to kill somebody, anybody because of his colour is barbaric. Especially the mother of 8 children. I was born in Slovakia and I cannot imagine where these kinds of people came from. The worst part is that they are called "skinheads", what propaganda automatically renames "Nazis" or "Neo-Nazis". They are idiots, not the representatives of National Socialist ideas.
But on the other hand a member of parliament Víťazoslav Moric was stripped of his parliamentary immunity? And you call this a democracy? Since when is it against the law to call someone an idiot or a mental retard? Maybe it is a good idea, for their protection to put them on reservations, exactly as it was done in the so called "higher democracies" - which Slovakia is so eager to copy - the US and Canada.

Lesley A.Rudolph
Invermere, B.C. Canada

Ailing health sector to be gutted?

Dear Editor,
I am a professor of Public Health at The University of Iowa and just returned from Bratislava. For the last four years I have been managing a cooperative research and training grant between the University of Iowa and medical research collaborators in five Central European countries. I also spent six months in Bratislava last year as a Senior Fulbright Scholar.
There is a situation in Slovakia that, in my opinion, is both newsworthy and tragic. That situation is the impending demise of medical research capabilities in the Slovak Republic. Although the Slovak government claims to be dedicated to EU and NATO membership and has recently become an OECD member, the Slovak Ministry of Health is quietly implementing a retrogressive plan of dissolving every well-established medical research facility in the country. Ten years ago, there were 11 independent medical research institutes in Slovakia. One year ago, there were four. There may soon be none.
Within the past year, the Research Institute of Nutrition was practically disbanded, despite the fact that poor nutrition is an important contributing factor to many of the diseases affecting Slovak citizens. Similarly, the Research Institute of Rheumatic Diseases has been effectively closed although disorders of the musculo-skeletal system are the second leading cause of morbidity in Slovakia. And the National Centre for Health Promotion was dissolved even though Slovakia ranks very low among European countries in regard to premature mortality, which is strongly related to life-style and lack of health promotion activities.
Apparently, the Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine, widely respected throughout Europe and the only institute in the country dedicated to the science of preventive medicine, is the last on the government's list of disappearing research facilities. The Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine has an impressive list of research activities, including: participation in seven international projects supported by the European Commission; long standing cooperation on projects with the US National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the Centres for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation, the Environmental Protection Agency, collaborations with universities and centres of excellence throughout Europe and the US; numerous scientific journal editorships; the sole guarantor of clinical audits in Slovakia; and having a leading position in many scientific areas documented by an excellent record of publications in leading national and international journals. The Institute's scientific staff has great respect within the international scientific community.
Apparently, the only group that does not value the Institute's work is the Slovak government's decision makers. When recently asked to justify the impending plan to effectively weaken the Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine, the Minister of Health could provide no coherent explanation. He referred vaguely to a recent audit that proposed several plans for improving health care delivery in Slovakia but it was obvious to everyone who read the publicly available audit that the Minister himself had not bothered to read it. None of the changes he plans are justified, or mentioned, in the audit.
This latest in the current series of actions by the Slovak Ministry of Health has many serious consequences. One of the finest and most needed medical research institutes in Central Europe will be dismantled. Scores of world-class Slovak scientists will have their cutting-edge research limited or will be forced to move to other countries to continue their work. And young, aspiring Slovak scientists will have no role models or opportunities to pursue medical research careers in their own country. While most Central European countries are investing more, not less, in medical research, Slovakia will become the poor, scientific step-child of the region.
But the most important consequence of the present string of ill-founded and arbitrary decisions by the Health Ministry is that the lives of tens of thousands, if not millions, of present and future Slovak citizens will be diminished long after present government officials have left office. The environmental contaminants that will cause future cancers will be unidentified, unstudied, and, therefore, not controlled. Physicians will have to depend on research in other countries to provide new medical knowledge and hope that it applies to the patients they treat in Slovakia. Innovative public health programmes for prevention, rather than more costly treatment, of many diseases will be diminished.
If the Slovak Republic is to truly take its place among members of NATO and the European Community, decisions by government officials must be open to public discussion and explanation. Secretive, arbitrary, and unfounded decision-making is no longer acceptable. Let the Minister of Health openly describe his vision of health care and medical research for the future of Slovakia. Let him explain to the international scientific community, to parliament, to the media, and to the people of Slovakia why his decisions are in the best interests of the country.

Thomas M. Cook,
Professor, College of Public Health, the University of Iowa
Co-Director, International Institute for Rural and Environmental Health, Bratislava

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