Dr Govinda KC’s fast-onto-death to end undue political meddling in the appointment of top officials at the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Maharajgunj—the premier healthcare service provider in Nepal for the poor and the middle-class people—seemed to have caught the imagination of the whole country. That an academic had to resort to such a desperate measure to ensure merit- and seniority-based appointment in his institution, is indicative of the level of political meddling in all sections of Nepali society, including vital areas like health and education. In this, we wholeheartedly support Dr KC’s effort. We are also happy that the government has at long last heeded the call of the medical community and appointed Dr Prakash Sayami as the new IOM dean.
It wasn’t surprising that the whole medical community backed Dr KC’s noble initiative. But we were troubled that in order to clean up the muck in the system, the doctors had to resort to the desperate measure of shutting down medical establishments throughout the country. The shutdown of IOM, Maharajgunj, which serves up to 2,000 patients a day, alone for the last several days prevented countless patients who could not afford expensive private hospitals, from their right to affordable healthcare.
Shutdown of hospitals across the country resulted in dire consequences for patients facing life and death situations. This is the reason every country has an Essential Services Act in place. Although there is no hard and fast definition of essential services, the ILO defines them as the services “the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.” In keeping with the international norm, Nepal government in 2011 banned strikes in 16 essential services sectors, including healthcare.
Again, Dr KC’s demands were entirely legitimate and the medical establishment had every right to express its solidarity with what was a very noble cause. Surely, it was about time somebody took drastic measures to clean up the healthcare system of a country where patients continue to die of easily treatable water-borne diseases, largely owing to the apathy of its political class towards the concerns of common people and the incompetent medical leadership. But we believe healthcare practitioners should also not forget their larger responsibility towards the people. If doctors, among the most respected professionals in the country, fail to live up to their image, there is little hope for establishment of a responsible and accountable citizenry.
That said, the government, which time and again tried to sweep the appointment issue under the carpet rather than address Dr KC’s demands earnestly, is no less responsible for pushing the doctors to the brink. We hope Dr KC’s selfless act prompts the powers that be to understand the importance of appointing competent leadership at vital establishments. For it is not just the country’s health sector that needs rescuing from undue political interference