Controversy Over Medical Bill

Uttam Maharjan

The government is all set to endorse the national medical education bill. Had there been no protest, it would have been passed by the Cabinet. The crux of the controversy surrounds the modification of the national medical education ordinance approved by the Deuba-led government and tabling of the revised bill in such a manner as to favour some medical colleges allegedly operated by or in cahoots with some political leaders such as the National Medical College, Manmohan Memorial Medical College and Aswini Medical College.

As a protest against the medical bill, Dr. Govinda KC has been on hunger strike since June 30. His main demands include barring of opening of medical colleges in the Kathmandu Valley for ten years, affiliation by a single university to not more than five medical colleges and requirements for a private firm for running a hospital with 300 or more beds for at least three years to be eligible for operating a medical college.
This is not the first time that Dr. KC, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, has staged a hunger strike. He has been staging such strikes for the last six years, demanding reforms in the bailiwick of medical education. But every time he staged a hunger strike, the governments would persuade him to call off the strike by assuring him that his demands would be fulfilled. However, most of his demands have remained unfulfilled despite his agreements with the successive governments.

Great ripples
This time, Dr. KC’s fifteenth hunger strike has given rise to great ripples across the country. He first staged his strike in Jumla, a remote place which lacks effective medical facilities, to draw the attention of the government to the medical plight obtaining there. While in Humla, Dr. KC wanted to hold talks with the government in Jumla itself but the government forcibly airlifted him to Kathmandu as his health was deteriorating, claiming that he could not be treated there. This shows that the government also indirectly admits that Jumla lacks medical facilities. In fact, most of the remote areas and villages are deprived of even basic medical facilities.
But it was not an easy proposition for the government to bring Dr. KC to Kathmandu. The government had to use force on the doctors, nurses and others preventing the security forces from reaching Dr. KC at the Karnali Academy of Health Sciences. This attitude on the part of the government has gathered a lot of brickbats.
Now Dr. KC is in Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj, continuing with his hunger strike. He has refused to take medical attention. As a result, his health is going from bad to worse. In the meantime, solidarity in favour of Dr. KC’s hunger strike is growing by leaps and bounds. Protest programmes have been running in Kathmandu. The security forces are, however, using force to suppress even peaceful rallies in violation of the fundamental rights of people. A mass hunger strike is also going on at Basantapur in support of Dr. KC to exert pressure on the government to fulfil Dr. KC’s demands.
The government has also formed a secretary-level talks team to negotiate with Dr. KC on his demands. The talks remained iffy for a long time as both sides had stuck to their guns as the talks team of Dr. KC was insisting that the medical bill be withdrawn first before starting the talks, whereas the government was saying that the bill could not be withdrawn and demanded that Dr. KC end his hunger strike first and come to talks. What is more, the team of Dr. KC alleged that the government team lacked a mandate to make any decision and so demanded that a fully-mandated minister-level talks team be formed by the government. In the meantime, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli also came down heavily on both Dr. KC and the Nepali Congress, which is supporting Dr. KC. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the formal talks have begun between the talks teams of Dr. KC and the government, which is a positive sign.
There are many anomalies in the medical education sector. There are twenty medical colleges in the country. Medical education has been highly commercialised. The fees for pursuing medical education are beyond the capacity of the general public. That is why people, especially those with political connections or politicians themselves, are falling over themselves to open medical colleges. Medical colleges have proved to be milking cows for them.
One of the concerns of Dr. KC is that even the poor should have access to medical education, a course that entails millions of rupees at present. For this to happen, the fees should be reviewed critically and slashed drastically. Although many students go abroad to pursue medical education, those who have succeeded there have to undergo a test conducted by the Nepal Medical Council to be eligible for practising their profession. It is reported that as high as 88 per cent of such students fail in the test. This indicates that the medical education attained abroad is not to up to the mark. The medical education imparted by private medical colleges in the country is not up to the mark, either. The government should pay attention to the quality of medical education as incompetent medical practitioners can play havoc with the health of people.

Flexible attitude
The government should be serious to bring reforms in the field of medical education. It should take the initiative in eliminating the controversy surrounding the medical bill. As the formal talks have begun, both sides should adopt a flexible attitude. It is not necessary fulfill all the demands of Dr. KC. There should be far-reaching discussions on the matter and an appropriate medical bill aimed at bringing about reforms in the domain of medical education. After all, the medical field is very sensitive one as it is concerned with people’s health.

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