Manoj Karki

KATHMANDU: The entire country felt a sigh of relief when government representatives finally gave in to the just demands of Dr Govinda KC and forged an agreement with him (for the tenth time, of course) to break his latest round of fast-unto-death.

But everyone who have watched this ‘cat and mouse’ race between various governments and Dr KC unfold in the past four years is also equally aware and concerned that this government too will violate the agreement prompting Dr KC to go on his 11th round of satyagraha. One would think why would this bachelor continue risk his life when he knows that the government’s signing agreement is mere rhetoric and is less likely to be translated into real action.

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Post-1990 Nepal saw a boom in advancements in every single sector of the country, and the health sector was no exception. The medical education as well as health sector took huge strides in no real time, thanks to the involvement of the private sector. However, as one would have expected, the involvement of the private sector for obvious reasons led to excessive commercialization of the sector. Earlier, there was no other factor than being selected in the merit list to be qualified enough to study a bachelor’s degree in medicine to become a doctor. But the mushrooming of medical colleges across the country meant that one could become a doctor if one could afford to pay for it.

With private hospitals aplenty, a doctor’s profession too became very lucrative. Hence it was worth an investment for those who could afford it, while also earning the respect that a medical doctor still generates in the Nepali society. Hence, the number of hospitals and doctors increased but the quality of medical education in particular and health services in general deteriorated. While the poor people living in far-flung places continued to die for lack of minor treatment and drugs, the capital Kathmandu started seeing hospitals crop up in every nook and corner of the valley. And news reports of people turning penniless trying to save their loved ones became normal. Hospitals being vandalized by people irate over doctor’s negligence leading to the death of their loved ones started becoming a daily affair.

In the meantime, services at government hospitals and clinics waned down, with many government-paid doctors too contributing to the decline by recommending patients to private hospitals or themselves working for private hospitals and clinics at the cost of the government hospitals. Like government schools, government hospitals too became a centre for those who could not afford medical treatment in the private, leading to lesser accountability on part of the health workers in state-run medical centres.

Dr KC’s crusade pays
In this backdrop, Dr KC’s one-man crusade to rid the country of all kinds of anomalies in the medical education and health service sector is more than welcome. This is also evident in the fact that the entire nation barring the medical sector businessmen come out in support of Dr KC. Media are splashed with coverage about his noble effort, with doctors too coming in support of him all over the country. It was also because of his demand in part that the highly powerful head of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority is currently facing an impeachment motion in the parliament. The sorry fate of the motion in the wake of a new crisis hitting the country is a different matter to be considered.

The agreements reached with Dr KC, if implemented, are sure to change the face of medical education and health sector in the country, and for the better. Diversifying medical education opportunities, making it affordable to the people at large and discouraging increasing politicization of health administrative centres including the Institute of Medicine under Tribhuvan University would become a reality if the agreements are put into practice. And most importantly, the commercialization of the medical education as well as the health service sector would stop.

In the meantime, following the footsteps of Dr KC, another man away from the glare of the mainstream media continues to fast in the premises of the Gajendra Narayan Singh Sagarmatha Zonal Hospital in Rajbiraj, the district headquarters of Saptari. His demands however are not as exhaustive and expansive as that of Dr KC’s were, but concerning reforms in the hospital of his constituency.

It will be the 15thday today that Bikas Tiwari, Chairman of Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Gajendrabadi) began his hunger strike calling for, among other things, specialist doctors, proper sanitation and clear information about the services and medicine available for free for those visiting the government-run zonal hospital. It took 22 days amidst widespread public pressure for the government to come to an agreement with Dr KC to break his fast-unto-death and only time will tell how long Tiwari will have to continue to fast before the Health Minister, as per his latest demand, comes to his rescue. RSS

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