The reason why Dr KC has been on hunger strike repeatedly is because no political party is ready to overhaul Nepal's health service and medical education system.
In case the title does not make you curious, let me put things in context first, before I deal with the question raised.
Dr Govinda KC, he needs no introduction here and abroad, has been on hunger strike, for the 19th time now. In his support, solidarity rallies are being organized across the country, people are braving the batons to support the cause for which Dr KC is fighting. Media pressure on the government is building up, editorials have been written, and opinion pages are full of anger and resentment against the government for pushing a humanist doctor to risk his life.
But this is not happening for the first time. What has happened now has happened several times in the past—during his 16th, 17th, 18th hunger strikes too. There was solidarity for him. Civil society leaders made appeals to the government to heed Dr KC and address his demands. This time around too, there have been growing calls, appeals and pressures on the government to address his demands. But nothing has been done to address his demands so far.
The demands Dr KC raises are such which no sane mind can oppose publicly. Dr KC has always advocated for fairness, accountability, transparency and corruption-free governance, not only in the health and medical education sectors but in every sphere.
Yes, Dr KC has his shares of weaknesses too. He does not seem to listen to anybody but himself, does what he thinks is right and sometimes his hunger strikes are ill-timed. Dr KC's Satyagraha has not been fruitless though. At least fee ceilings have been fixed for medical students, at least there has been a commitment to open medical college in each province (for more see South Asia Check's assessment of Dr KC's movement). He was instrumental in raising voice against the shenanigans of the chief of anti-corruption body, Lok Man Singh Karki.
Because the cause he is fighting for is sacred and because he himself is a saint-like figure with no desire for material comforts, who reaches out to the remote corners of the country to treat the poor and the sick on his own expenses, the respect he commands among the general public is huge. Thus except the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) (the former UML faction within NCP to be more precise), all other parties stand by Dr KC on almost every occasion.
As the public and media pressures build and Dr KC's health further deteriorates, the government of K P Oli, like it had done earlier, might strike a new agreement with him. The strike will end for the moment but problems remain where they are. Then Dr KC may have to resume the strike in a few months.
In eight years, since Dr KC started the movement in 2012, we have stood behind him, we have cursed the governmentof the day for its apathy and cruelty. But how often have we looked into why his demands are never addressed?
The reason why Dr KC has been on hunger strike repeatedly is because to address his demands, Nepal has to completely overhaul its health and medical education system, for which no political party is ready.
Nepal's health services are mostly accessible only to the rich. Many people die because they do not get health services on time, some are held hostage in the hospitals because they cannot pay. We do not have enough public health facilities and whatever public health facilities we have are poorly equipped with medicine, technology and manpower.
And this has given the space for the rich to invest in posh hospitals, or seek services from there. On and off, there are scandals related to misdeeds of HAMS, Mediciti or Grande. Such hospitals are almost never held to account.
And the investors of such hospitals operate on the cloak of one or other parties. Those associated with former UML faction have larger stake in private medical college regime but those associated with other parties, including Nepali Congress, have also invested in it. One could say pretty much the same about extremely unaffordable private hospitals in and outside the Kathmandu Valley. This nexus of private hospital-medical college is so strong and they seem to behave as if they are above the law because their operators also happen to be party cadres.
Look at the rampage the private hospitals are running in this time of pandemic. They do not abide by the standards and directives set by the government. For example, the Ministry of Health has directed the private hospitals and labs to conduct a PCR test at Rs 2000 but they are charging as much as Rs 4,000 or even more. They openly challenge the government: Do whatever you can, we will not obey you.
It is precisely this nexus which ties the hands of the health ministers in this country. GaganThapa, while he was a health minister in 2016, initiated some reforms but his tenure was too short. About his successors, perhaps the less said the better.
If we are to reform the health sector in the spirit of Dr KC's demands, this nexus needs to be dismantled and for that we need to reverse the current paradigm of health services.No political party is committed for that.
Thus every time Dr KC sits for hunger strike, the opposition finds an agenda to push and pursue. But when they are in power they seem to show no concern for the same agenda. Truth of the matter is Bibeksheel Nepali Party has been the only force which has been supporting Dr KC, selflessly and consistently.
On our part, we are slowly giving up. Giving up that things will ever change and desperate, we go to private hospitals for every health complication. They drain our purse, they take away all the hard-earned money. We silently curse them, powerless to do anything about it. We have come to accept that nothing will change until Dr KC reminds us there is such a deep rot in health and medical education to clean up. With Dr KC, we at least have someone to speak for change, for which he commands immense respect.
There is every reason to be thankful to Dr KC for what he is doing for us, the common people. But it’s a long battle which cannot be won unless all the parties stand for complete overhaul of the current health system.