Medical care should be affordable and accessible to all. In one sentence, that is all Govinda KC wants on behalf of Nepalis.
On Thursday, the government ordered police to use force inside a Jumla hospital where KC was on the 20th day of his hunger-strike demanding an end to commercialisation of the medical sector. Local administration admitted to media that it spread rumours that a policeman had been killed to convince KC to agree to go to Kathmandu.
Amidst protests in Jumla and Kathmandu, and a nationwide hospital strike, KC finally agreed to be flown back on an Army helicopter, saying he wanted to prevent any more violence.
The reason quality health care is out of reach of Nepal’s predominantly poor people is that subsidised government hospitals are so shoddy, ill-equipped, poorly-managed, under-funded and under-staffed.
State neglect and mismanagement at its facilities means expensive private hospitals have stepped in to fill the gap. Medical care has therefore become a lucrative business, where rampant over-charging is the norm.
But that is not where the real money is. The bonanza is in medical education, where billions can be made overnight charging students for admission fees and royalty to feed the demand from private hospitals. It is no secret that the medical mafia enjoys strong political protection.
KC’s main demands follow the recommendations of the Kedar Bhakta Mathema Commission two years ago: an end to universities giving random affiliation to new medical colleges in return for kickbacks, restricting universities to maximum five affiliations, limiting private medical colleges in Kathmandu Valley to ten. Successive governments over the past decade have promised to meet these demands to make him end his fasts, but never fulfilled them.
After the government restricted protests in Kathmandu, KC went to Jumla for his 15th hunger strike last month, where he was hounded by the local administration, making him seek refuge in the Karnali Health Science Academy.
That was where on Thursday the riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to dislodge students and protesters blocking access to KC’s room on the third floor.
Although there are more doctors in Nepal today than 20 years ago, the population has also increased in that period. Nepal’s doctors to population ratio is one of the lowest in the world: 2 physicians for every 10,000 people. KC’s demand is to spread medical care evenly throughout the country, not just Kathmandu.
However, with so much money involved, KC’s hunger strike is a direct challenge to Prime Minister Oli, who is beholden to powerful businessmen with investments in the medical sector. Tycoon Durga Prasai, who owns B&C Hospital in Jhapa, was a key facilitator in uniting the UML and Maoists to form the Nepal Communist Party. Rajendra Pandey and comrades have invested heavily in the Man Mohan Memorial and the Kathmandu National Hospitals. NCP backer Upendra Mahato (whose brother-in-law is Transport and Infrastructure Minister Raghubir Mahaseth, who also owns Medicity Hospital) reportedly wants affiliation for a medical college in Kathmandu.
An erroneous report from Jumla that a policeman had been killed has been corrected in this update