VVIP medical tourism
Nepali people take their high-ranking politicians so slightly because there is often a huge gulf between their lofty words and puny actions. During his nine months in office, former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, in order to burnish his nationalist credentials, repeatedly invoked the greatness of our ancestors and the indomitable spirit of Nepali people. A proud Nepali, he said he would never give in to pressure tactics of foreign powers. He also pointed out the urgent need to diversify Nepal’s trade and to make the country self-sufficient. But this is the same person who, whenever there is a problem with his health, however small, likes to jet off to India and Thailand (where he is right now) for treatment.
This despite the assurance of Nepali doctors that they are more than capable of looking after him. Likewise, former President Ram Baran Yadav is reportedly seeking at least Rs 10 million from the state for his ‘treatment’ abroad. Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is in Singapore for ‘regular check-up’. Such medical tourism of our VVIPs, at considerable state expense, is unjustifiable.
We are no Luddites. We realize that our healthcare system, despite the pretentions of some of our private hospitals, is by no means world-class. Many modern medical gadgets seen in hospitals in the developed countries are missing here. When there are equipments, there might not be competent people to operate them. We also get to frequently hear of inexcusable neglect of hospitals that led to serious health complications, even deaths. But as any family that has over the year relied on Nepal’s healthcare system knows, our doctors and hospitals are also quite competent, especially if you know how to navigate the system. There are now many super-specialty hospitals, top-notch lab testing facilities, and doctors who have attended some of the best medical schools in the world, right here in Nepal. But the likes of Deuba and Oli clearly don’t trust the system enough. They don’t need to when they can easily tap state resources to fund their expensive medical trips abroad, perhaps followed by a nice-little family vacation in Bangkok or New York. But such extravagance of our political class greatly disappoints common folks.
It makes them suspect the intent of their elected representatives. But since they think they can do nothing about it, the only way to have peace of mind is to look the other way, to simply not bother about their self-serving politicians. While that may be a logical response, it is also a dangerous one for the nascent democracy. A functioning democracy needs active participation of its citizens in public affairs. Moreover, only a politically aware citizenry is capable of making informed choices during periodic elections.
But when people see that their chosen representatives are only concerned about increasing their personal power and wealth, with seemingly no one to stop them, it is hard for them to keep themselves motivated to play their parts as responsible citizens. This (short-term gain) is counterproductive for democratic parties, too, as the public starts hankering for ‘benevolent dictators’ to put the shameless politicians in their place. The likes of Oli and Deuba have more than enough wealth to seek treatment abroad on their own, if go they must. But if they want to be better trusted, they must first learn to trust the institutions in the country on which millions of Nepalis, their electorate, rely on for their health and wellbeing.