Salmonella and other health problems in Slovene politics

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The Slovenian government has recently had a big cabinet shake-up and as part of that the health minister tendered his resignation. Hot on the heels of this, an epidemic of salmonella was reported at a psychiatric hospital in the east of the country. Michael Manske of Radio Slovenia International reports on politics and public health.

The former health minister Andrej Brucan resigned at the end of August, citing "constant attacks and untrue allegations" that dogged his tenure. He was among three ministers to step down in a new cabinet reshuffle.

Brucan was plagued with allegations of corruption during the construction of a new children's hospital, as well as problems with a new oncology institute in Ljubljana. There was also an embarrassing incident over the summer in which a 50-year-old man suffering from chest pains was refused entry to the emergency ward of Celje's hospital because he didn't have the appropriate paperwork. He died just meters away from the hospital. The case sparked outrage and renewed debate about the Slovenian health care system.

Last week marked another low point, when a psychiatric hospital announced that a salmonella epidemic had broken out at Hrastovec. A staggering 650 patients fell ill, including 12 employees. Doctors deployed to the hospital immediately. Dr. Bozena Kotnik Kevorkijan, a specialist in communicable diseases at Maribor Hospital:

"Specialists arrived at the institute to help and see the epidemic in real time. We saw that the staff was helping patients. When considering the extreme conditions, we saw that they were doing everything they could do."

In some cases, however, it was too late. Four people died as a consequence of the epidemic, although in their cases, salmonella compounded their already fragile health. Dr. Kotnik Kevorkijan on the fatalities:

"Their condition was already poor upon their arrival, with each of them suffering from serious health problems, such as cancer, chronic alcoholism, diabetes, and so forth. For this reason, their deaths were not entirely surprising."

A further forty people were rushed to the hospital for treatment before being released. The source of infection was later revealed to have been a contaminated bean salad.

Slovenia's current health minister Zofija Mazej Kukovic "has her work cut out for her," according to the daily newspaper Dnevnik. Among her first priorities will be to draw up a health care programme for the country. She will also be facing questions of to what extent the health care system should be privatized, as well as unresolved issues from her predecessor.