Hospitals in Nepal
In the past few months alone we have reported on the severe shortage of vital medicines at rural healthcare centers, on new medical equipment worth billions gathering dust at government hospitals, on how the medical mafia has been able to time and again subvert the agenda of medical education reform, and on the tendency of our VVIPs to head abroad for even minor treatments. All these are enough to prove that our healthcare sector is in a mess. Now we can add one more symptom to this lengthening list hinting at the ill health of our hospitals and health posts. Republica has now obtained a document from the Ministry of Health that shows that at least 12 hospitals, including district hospitals, are today running without a single bed. Moreover, 37 hospitals, including regional and zonal hospitals, are far short of the number of beds sanctioned by the Department of Health Services. In the developed world, the number of hospital beds is a poor measure of their healthcare systems as cutting-edge technology now allows them to treat patients faster; many patients who before needed lengthy hospital stays can now be treated instantly. So there is no need for hospitals there to have that many beds.
But the situation in the developing countries is just the opposite. Here the number of hospital beds per capita is a rather good measure of the quality of healthcare on offer. This is because in poor countries like Nepal thousands of people die every year because of lack of easy access to timely and adequate medical care. It is not unusual for Nepali women to die during childbirth in rural areas or for even dangerous diseases to go undiagnosed until they reach a critical stage. Nepal still does not have a culture of prophylactic medicine, whereby you get regularly tested to ensure that you don’t have anything serious. Surprisingly this is the case even in urban areas where such tests are readily available. But an even bigger problem in many parts of Nepal is that even when people seek medical treatment after they already show outward symptoms, they are frequently turned away from hospitals.
This might be because the hospitals don’t have qualified medical personnel as most of our doctors and nurses prefer to stay put in Kathmandu. When there are doctors, there might not be medicines, another common feature of our hospitals in rural areas.
Even in the rare case when there are both doctors and medicines, as it turns out, there might not be enough hospital beds to admit new patients for treatment. This shows that the public healthcare system in Nepal is not geared to meet the needs of those who need it the most: the poor and the lower middle-class folks who cannot afford expensive private care. It makes one wonder where billions of rupees (Rs 41 billion this year) from national budget that is allocated to health every year goes. It also makes people suspicious that the government’s signature health programs like ‘One Village, One Doctor’ that was announced in the last budget are purely for public consumption.
People are paying with their lives for such neglect and lack of accountability.