Proud as she is to chair this year's International Congress on Electrocardiology (ICE) in Bratislava, Ljuba Bachárová doesn't know if she can raise enough money for the conference to meet in June.
That's because Slovak state funding for EKG research has ebbed to a trickle compared to the support which EKG specialists received from Slovakia's former communist regime, when Czechoslovak EKG researchers gained a worldwide reputation for their contributions to the medical technology.
Today the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV), where Bachárová works as a senior research specialist, receives too small a cut from the state budget for significant EKG research, while potential Western donors since the end of the Cold War have focused more on exploring the former East Bloc for commercial clients than to locate partners in clinical research.
"The general strategy of these companies is to explore new markets at the local level," Bachárová said. "This is understandable in the short term, but local clients must be educated and aware of all the latest information and developments in [EKG] technology, which is not to be found at the local level, but only at international conferences."
While major Western laboratories and medical engineering firms are providing know-how and equipment directly to local hospitals and clinics, "If I send these companies a letter requesting money for research or sponsorship for the conference, they refer me to their local representatives, or the letter is lost," Bachárová lamented.
This attitude, in combination with the post-communist transformation of the Slovak health-care sector, Bachárová added, has left Slovak EKG researchers "out in the cold."
East paralleled West
Dr. Ivan Ruttkay, a pioneer of Slovak EKG research and a retired research professor of electrocardiology at SAV, recalled that from 1959 to 1989, EKG research "paralleled development in the U.S. and eastern Europe."
"In those days it was easy to invite people here because we had the money," Ruttkay continued. "The [Czechoslovak] state supported our travelling expenses, while our local expenses were covered by our hosts in western Europe and the U.S."
The International Society for Electrocardiology (ISE) "originally decided to have meetings every other year in eastern [European] countries," Bachárová said. "This was very clever, because it gave specialists on each side [of the ideological barrier] the chance to share information, which is one reason why Slovakia's position was so good."
The first international symposium on EKG research was held in Starý Smokovec in 1959; the third, in 1961, took place in Smolenice Castle, not far from Bratislava. Thanks to their participation in international symposia, Slovak EKG specialists could stay abreast of all the latest research from around the world, including the burgeoning computer methodology for EKG data analysis in the 1960's and 70's.
With the fall of Communism in 1989, Bachárová explained, "electrocardiographs were sold here for a short time, but now that the health-care system is transforming, the resources for what seemed a promising market a few years ago no longer look so promising."
Provided Bachárová can pull off this year's ICE conference, she hopes to hold a workshop on establishing a "multicentric" Slovak EKG research laboratory "completely or at least partly independent from the state.
This would be a new center for research, not diagnostic analysis," which she thinks could potentially become a hub for EKG research in central Europe. "We can guarantee good quality research because of our reputation," Bachárová said. "But we need funding."
30. Jan 1997 at 0:00 | Tom Reynolds