NEPAL: Government finally agrees to medical reforms after 27 days of Dr. Govinda K.C.’s hunger strike

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) salutes the undeterred courage of Dr. Govinda K.C., who singlehandedly brought Nepal’s government to its knees after staging a fast-unto-death hunger strike for 27 days. Dr. Govinda K.C. started his 15th hunger strike from Jumla district on 30 June 2018, demanding that the medical education law should be drafted based on the recommendations made by the Mathema Commission report. When his health deteriorated, the government forcibly airlifted Dr. Govinda K.C. to Kathmandu, where he continued with his hunger strike at the Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital. Dr. Govinda K.C. was rejecting treatment even after his white blood cells count, blood sugar and potassium levels became critically low.

The government finally struck a nine-point deal with Dr. Govinda K.C., after massive public pressure from inside and outside Nepal. People from all walks of life, including fellow doctors, students, editors and journalists, human rights defenders, civil society leaders, actors, ex- judges, and common citizens rallied in the streets and conducted mass hunger strikes to support his demands. Doctors halted their services in many parts of the country, only providing emergency services. There was an overwhelming call for the government to adhere to Dr. Govinda K.C.’s demands, and to abolish Nepal’s medical mafia.

The demands put forth by Dr. Govinda K.C. are as follows:

1. Authorization of the Medical Education Ordinance Replacement Bill without any changes;

2. Proper building and management of infrastructure at the Karnali Institute of Health Sciences, and establishment of medical colleges in every province;

3. Revoking the ban on staging protests at Maitighar Mandala;

4. Autonomy to Institute of Medicines, and action against those implicated by the Judicial Investigation Commission;

5. Implementation of standards of officials set by the University Grants Commission;

6. Scrapping of Scholarship Management and Mobilization Procedures 2075, and enforcement of 2 years mandatory service after studying under scholarship schemes;

7. Arresting those involved in the fraud of Janaki Medical College.

The government has now agreed to amend 22 provisions of the Medical Education Bill in accordance with Dr. Govinda K.C.’s demands. Its earlier insistence on passing the Medical Education Bill in contravention of the Mathema Commission recommendations indicated that the government was serving Nepal’s medical mafia rather than ordinary citizens. The government also agreed to impose a moratorium on setting up medical colleges in the Kathmandu valley for 10 years. However, it will monitor the existing medical colleges regarding their infrastructure, and if they fall below the criteria, they may wish to sell to the government or opt to move outside the Kathmandu valley.

Additionally, a hospital must now run for three years before it expands into a medical college, and one university can grant affiliation to a maximum of five medical colleges. There must be 75 percent scholarship in government medical colleges.

The government has said it will introduce an amendment proposal bill in the parliament in the next few days. Close follow up and monitoring is essential to ensure that the government adheres to its agreement, as the government is notorious for backing off from its promises.

The government must also promote the establishment of medical colleges in Nepal’s rural areas, where people do not have easy access to health care. They are spending their life savings, selling their property, and borrowing money on high interest to receive basic treatment.

Now with the much required medical reforms in the pipeline, the medical mafia system can be expected to end in Nepal, and common Nepalese can expect to receive easy access to affordable quality medical treatment. Nepalese living in remote areas will not have to die in the absence of doctors, hospitals and basic medicines.

The level of corruption and crony capitalism that Nepal’s socialist government has fallen into is indicated by the fact that Dr. Govinda K.C. had to stage 15 rounds of his fast-unto-death hunger strike to convince the government to be people-minded. Common people have high expectations from this government, and it must work to meet them, rather than functioning for vested interest groups. The AHRC strongly urges the government to end its indifference to the general populace, and ensure that Dr. Govinda K.C. has no cause for beginning his 16th round of fast-unto-death hunger strike.