Two mountain medicine clinics that have saved hundreds of lives of trekkers and porters in the Khumbu region of Nepal have been forced to close down by the local municipality, allegedly in collusion with a helicopter company that profits from rescues.
The clinics at above 4,500m in Machermo village on the Gokyo trekking route are run by the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG) and Community Action Nepal (CAN) with support of the Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal (MMSN).
The shelter and rescue centres provided free care for porters and local people, which was paid for by charging trekkers who needed treatment for acute mountain sickness. But a new private clinic set up nearby in October 2019 started lifting trekkers by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu appears to have pressured the local government to end the agreement with IPPG.
‘The business model for the new clinic would appear to be to evacuate as many trekkers as possible to Kathmandu where it is alleged they are often subjected to excessive or fictitious investigations and treatment,’ wrote Nick Mason, Chair of IPPG, a UK-based charity.
Volunteer physicians in Gokyo estimate that the new private clinic medevaced up to 50% of patients to a hospital in Kathmandu partly owned by the helicopter company. IPPG used helicopter evacuation of only 5% of the most serious cases.
Last year, the Nepal government promised to investigate after a major scandal was reported in the media about an insurance scam involving unnecessary evacuation by helicopter of trekkers suffering from altitude sickness. Trekking insurance fraud has been reported in Nepal since 2013.
The incidence of fraudulent rescues claiming insurance rose since 2015, as reported by this newspaper and others. Trekking companies were also said to have collaborated with helicopter companies and hospitals to entice tourists to opt for medical evacuation at an inflated fee, and share the profits.