Even though we have repeatedly made this point in this space before, it is worthwhile stating once again that the demands of Govinda KC—the crusading doctor at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, who on Thursday started his 13th fast-unto-death—are common sense. Why should a frail and diabetic doctor have to time and again put his life on the line to ensure cheap and reliable healthcare for each and every Nepali, a task that should have been readily owned up by the sovereign parliament? Before Dr KC entered the scene, Nepalis had been told that for a country at Nepal’s stage of development, ‘healthcare for all’ was a utopian ideal, only fit for political slogans. But the orthopedic surgeon showed exactly how this was possible: by establishing more medical colleges outside urban centers (to decentralize healthcare), by capping fees for MBBS and MD courses (to make medicine a noble pursuit primarily aimed at public welfare and not a big profit-chasing business) and by having a more autonomous medical education regulator (to ensure quality medical education). Yet, in each of the past 12 times, the mighty medical mafia has been able to thwart his noble initiative.
The main reason for this is the deep penetration of this mafia among all our major political parties, with its deepest penetration in CPN-UML. Aware that their efforts to recklessly commercialize medical education is unpopular, the decisions are often made in underhand ways: the Tribhuvan University senate meets in the middle of the night to grant affiliation to a new medical college, or the parliament rushes through bills supporting the medical mafia, without any discussion. Meanwhile, parliamentary bills that would have met Dr KC’s demands, albeit partially, are surreptitiously watered down. Whenever Dr KC sits for a hunger strike, and as his health starts deteriorating, the government in power buckles under public pressure and promises to more or less address all of Dr KC’s demands. But no sooner does the doctor break his fast, the old mafia quickly gets back to undo all the good work. Nepalis have witnessed the repetition of this depressing trend ad infinitum—and they are frustrated.
Frustrated with the entrenched culture of corruption and impunity, frustrated with their own helplessness to effect meaningful change, frustrated with the inaction of the entire political class, and frustrated with their country, where, seemingly, nothing good ever happens. And it is this great frustration that morphs into such overwhelming support for Dr KC’s efforts at medical reforms. We here at Nepal Republic Media know all too well how hard it is to fight organized corruption, including in the medical sector. Yet there is hope. For instance our unrelenting campaign against corruption has had its moments of triumph, most famously the sackings of the corrupt chiefs of Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) and Sajha Prakashan. Perhaps because of his own frustration as a Nepali citizen Dr KC has now made investigation into corruption at NOC and legal action against the guilty one of his new demands. We fully support Dr KC. But we have no illusions: our collective fight against corruption and criminalization of politics will be long and hard. Yet if we are persistent we are confident that we will win, we must win.