New health plan: an intrusion of privacy?

The Czech coalition government has just announced a brand new health plan it says is needed to allow Czech citizens to live longer and healthier lives. The broad, long-term plan is anything if not ambitious, presenting steps on improving public health in everything from child care to reducing the number of smokers in the country, lowering the spread of infectious diseases and to even trying to reduce the suicide rate. But, as Jan Velinger reports, many critics see the plan as meddling in peoples' private lives, something many Czechs, having experienced life under socialism, are very sensitive about.

The Social Democrat-led government believes it can change the public through information and education, to help improve the quality of citizens' health and their overall lives - on Wednesday the government announced a new 21-point plan with which it would like to influence and improve the quality of citizens health and lives. Among concrete steps to be taken in the health sector the plan includes the recommendation that Czechs should give up smoking, eat healthier, and drink less. Experts agree that the situation is alarming and that something needs to be done. Head of the drugs dependency clinic at Prague's Bohnice psychiatric hospital Karel Nespor:

"There is a very low alcohol tax which by no means covers the damage cause by alcohol and commercial interests prevail over health interests. That is a sad reality in the Czech Republic at the beginning of the new millennium."

Despite the stark reality and the fact that there are experts who welcome any government plan as long overdue, others see it as intolerable state intrusion into their private affairs. Psychologist Dr Petr Weiss:

"It's a social engineering plan, I don't trust in social engineering at all. I am an adult and I don't want my government to govern my private life, to say what I can eat, what I can smoke, what I can drink. They don't have any right. After the revolution in '89 the Czechs lived much healthier than before. The food is healthier, the stress is lower, so I think that if you change conditions, if you liberalise the conditions, these things have improved peoples' health since totalitarianism. Why make such engineering in this area? I don't understand."

Whether one takes a sceptical view or is a supporter of the government's new health plan one thing is clear even now: should it be welcomed by the public and approved in parliament, its impact will only be felt over years, when it will first become possible to measure the campaign's success. Many would agree though with Dr Weiss that the greatest improvement in Czech health came after the fall of Communism when people were able to assume responsibility for their own lives, and for them a return to socialist style policies is a backwards step.