KATHMANDU, Dec 11: After the government appointed Secretary Kedar Bahadur Adhikari as the secretary at the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), once again breaching the practice of appointing a medical doctor as the health secretary, Nepal Medical Association (NMA), the umbrella organization of doctors in the country, has demanded that the government "correct" the decision.
“We are shocked by the government decision and demand that the government withdraw its decision,” reads a statement issued by the NMA on Monday. The statement has also asked the government to implement the Nepal Health Service Act (Section 19).A recent cabinet meeting transferred Adhikari, secretary at the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, to the MoHP. This is the second time that the over decade-long practice of appointing a medical doctor as the health secretary has been breached. The first breach came in August 2014 when the then health minister Khaga Raj Adhikari transferred Secretary Shanta Bahadur Shrestha of the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development to the MoHP following the retirement of health secretary Dr Praveen Mishra.
Following Shrestha's transfer to the health ministry, NMA had protested against the government decision. The doctors had claimed that a health secretary who was not a health professional, preferably a doctor, could not understand the complications of the health sector. Then the doctors and the government had reached an agreement to solve the problem, agreeing to appoint only a medical professional the health secretary.
However, the Nepal Health Service Act 1997 does not make it mandatory for the government to appoint only a medical person as the health secretary, according to Shrestha. The act says that doctors can also be appointed as the secretary of the MoHP. Before this act, health secretaries were appointed only from the administration sector.
In a bid to address the demand raised by the health professionals, the then Girija Prasad Koirala-led government had appointed Dr Sudha Sharma, a medical doctor, as the health secretary in the aftermath of the People's Movement in 2006. Dr Sharma was the first health secretary who was also a medical doctor.
“When I was transferred to the MoHP, the doctors protested,” said former secretary Shrestha. “I worked at the health ministry for 22 months before I was transferred to the Ministry of Education,” he added.
After Shrestha, health secretaries were picked from the medical sector. Dr Senendra Raj Uprety succeeded Shrestha as the health secretary. Following Dr Uprety's retirement in about nine months, gynecologist Dr Kiran Regmi, the daughter of poet laureate Madhav Prasad Ghimire, was appointed the health secretary.
When Dr Regmi retired from the post on December 24, 2017, Dr Pushpa Chaudhari, who is also a medical doctor, was appointed the health secretary. However, the current government led by KP Oli transferred Dr Chaudhari to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, accusing her of "unsatisfactory performance", and assigned Dr Sushil Nath Pyakurel as the acting secretary at the MoHP.
Dr Chaudhari moved the Supreme Court against the government decision. The apex court issued a stay order in favor of Dr Chaudhari. After the court order, Dr Chaudhari goes to her office at the health ministry every day but she doesn't carry out any official work.
And now, the government has transferred Secretary Adhikari, who is not a medical professional, to the MoHP. “I am unaware of any special rule that calls for appointing only medical doctors as the secretary at the health ministry. The government transferred me to the health ministry,” he said, adding, “I started attending my new office from today.”