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Ivan Novotný: The Doctor

When Ivan Novotný opened a drug treatment centre in the Bratislava suburb of Petržalka in 1994, he little imagined how tough it would be to secure funding to save lives.
"Sometimes I get the feeling that bureaucrats have more problems in supporting this project than I do in saving lives," he said. "I can't understand the pettiness of some people."
Novotný, 65, is an MD and surgeon who in 1964 co-founded one of the most successful alcohol treatment centres in the former Czechoslovakia. He treated over 27,000 patients, most of them alcoholics, until opening the AT Sanatórium in Petržalka.


photo: Soňa Bellušová

When Ivan Novotný opened a drug treatment centre in the Bratislava suburb of Petržalka in 1994, he little imagined how tough it would be to secure funding to save lives.

"Sometimes I get the feeling that bureaucrats have more problems in supporting this project than I do in saving lives," he said. "I can't understand the pettiness of some people."

Novotný, 65, is an MD and surgeon who in 1964 co-founded one of the most successful alcohol treatment centres in the former Czechoslovakia. He treated over 27,000 patients, most of them alcoholics, until opening the AT Sanatórium in Petržalka.

Novotný said he had been prompted to open the drug treatment centre because of a sudden and rapid increase in the number of heroin addicts in Petržalka during the early 1990's. Unlike in western Europe, he said, Slovak heroin addicts tended to be young, from 20-24 years old.

Situated in a former kindergarten, Novotný's centre takes a different appraoch to drug treatment than that followed at state-run treatment centres. Novotný focuses not only on treatment but on "re-socialisation" - forming personal relationships with his patients, defining their personal needs and helping them find jobs when they finally kick the habit.

"When I started my career treating alcoholics and drug addicts in the 1960's, this kind of work was regarded by other doctors as a form of professional punishment," he said. "I was fascinated by the area of addiction, but such a field was not even recognized in Slovakia until 1972."

Novotný says he still notices a certain reserve in the attitudes of doctors and health care bureaucrats to the treatment of drug addiction - a reserve which is mostly expressed through withheld funding, he said.

Nevertheless, Novotný manages to afford his 28-bed hospital and 12-13 employees by skilfully combining health insurance payments, donations from the parents of addicts, as well as transfers from the state Anti-Drug Fund.

"Keeping each patient here costs 710 Slovak crowns ($17) a day," he said. "Of this, only 560 crowns is covered by insurance. Every drug treatment center in Slovakia has its problems," he said.

But unless the state increases the amount of money its puts into addiction treatment, Novotný said, the future of his centre looks grim. "The future of this hospital is desperate," he said.

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