On 17 June, prime minister K P Oli’s personal doctor Divya Singh was made the Dean of IOM, a political appointment that was met with heavy criticism in the public sphere.
Medical education reform activist Jiwan Chettri says: “Most of the appointments at the IOM are of those who have political influence. This will surely bring down the institute and hospitals operating under it. The need to focus on building stronger health structure is more visible than ever during this pandemic.”
Achham’s Bayalpata hospital has been providing free health service for the Nepal’s poor with support from the non-profit Nyaya Health Nepal. But the hospital is struggling because of a funding crunch, and one of KC’s demands is that the government step in to support Bayalpata.
The government is more intent on supporting tycoon Durga Prasai’s B&C Medical College in Jhapa by bending the rules in the Medical Education Act.
The act stipulates that a university may not be affiliated to more than five medical colleges, that the university may not allow the college to operate as an expanded program, and that universities outside the Valley may be affiliated to other colleges only after conducting their own MBBS/BDS programs.
Following another hunger strike by KC two years ago, the government agreed to amend the Act such so that a university cannot be affiliated to more than five medical colleges. But there has been no progress there either. In fact, final preparations are being made to affiliate B&C Medical College to Kathmandu University.
Member of Nepal Medical Council Dhundi Raj Poudel says that Nepal’s universities are incapable of giving affiliations to more than five medical colleges.
“Regular inspections and examinations should be conducted to find out the condition of the affiliated colleges. But Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University themselves don’t have sufficient faculty members,” he said.
In yet another written only commitment, following an agreement with KC on his 15th hunger strike in 2018, the government formed a committee to set up an MBBS program at the Karnali Institute of Health Sciences. Nothing has happened.
“MBBS program at Karnali and from other government level will stop the business of private colleges, which is why the government hasn’t prioritised it,” explains Jiwan Chettri.
Not long ago, Sunil Sharma, the operator of Nobel Medical College in Biratnagar invested Rs1.7 billion in Kathmandu Medical College. Sharma is the same person whose Grade 12 certificate was found to have been forged during a Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) probe in 2016. Unable to arrest Sharma, the CIB had then placed him in the wanted list.
Last year, students accused Chitwan Medical College in Bharatpur, National Medical College in Birgunj and Noble Medical College in Biratnagar of charging more than the prescribed fee. But the promoters have such high level political connections that nothing happened to them.
Similarly, after students in Gandaki Medical College in Pokhara staged protests over high tuition fees, a Parliament sub-committee last year ordered an investigation, which eventually concluded that most medical colleges were charging illegally high fees. The report, however, did not recommend any action against the colleges. On the contrary, it suggested increasing fees and seats in colleges.
When Lokman Singh Karki was the head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), he openly favoured his brother Balman Singh Karki, who was the director of Kist Medical College when private medical education does not even fall under jurisdiction of the authority. In 2013, the CIAA under Karki directed the Medical Council to maintain the number of seats in nine medical colleges going against a government policy.
While KC repeatedly puts his life on the line for reforming medical education and making medical care affordable and accessible to all Nepalis, the government is out to back its cronies in the lucrative private healthcare sector.
Former Registrar of Nepal Medical Council Baburam Marasini blames negligence and corruption since the 1990s as the main culprit behind poor quality of medical education.
“Back then we couldn’t reform medical education under the pressure from the prime minister and education minister,” he says. “The Medical Council’s powers were cut, and now that medical care is commercialised the quality of medical education has deteriorated even further.”
Meanwhile, senior figures in the NCP government regularly pass disparaging remarks about Govinda KC, calling him “mad” and ridiculing his hunger strikes. Last week, KC was forcibly moved to the Trauma Centre when he flew in from Jumla via Nepalganj half-way through his hunger strike.
KC is on the 16th day of his current hunger strike, and doctors say his condition is deteriorating rapidly.