On September 14, Dr. Govinda KC, a retired activist and surgeon who has been using his own well-being to demand reforms in the country's health system, began his nineteenth hunger strike at a temple in Ranichaur, a village in the Jumla district, Nepal.
Doctorstory Nepal, a collaborative account of several Nepalese doctors on social media, tweeted:
beloved ones without access to health service. He has spend his 150 days in hunger to bring justice to people. He is in his 19th fast onto death and we call him “Pagal”
I wish I could be pagal like him. But I don’t have such strength. But why not support him and his cause,
– Doctorstory Nepal- सेवा नै धर्म हो l (@DocstoryNepal) September 25, 2020
But he prefers to work in a government hospital, and offers free service, trips to every rural part of Nepal and the world, to care for those in need with his own savings. Choose to fight for those unanswered calls and cries from innocents from distant places they have lost
loved ones without access to health services. He has spent his 150 days of famine to bring justice to the people. He is on his nineteenth fast from death and we call him “Pagal.”
I wish I could be crazy like him. However, I don't have his strength. But why not support him and his cause?
“Pagal” is a Nepalese term that means “crazy”
Dr. KC's requests include timely treatment of COVID-19 patients and common illnesses, ending the country's lockdown and preventing a wave of infections with safety precautions. In addition, he advocates that medical services are free and accessible to the public, and wants those involved in corruption within the health sector to be denounced.
On September 22, when the doctor's health began to deteriorate, the Nepalese Police forcibly took him to the National Trauma Center in Kathmandu, where he refused all treatment. He went to the Maharajgunj Hospital where he continued his strike.
At a press conference on October 1, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali pleaded with the doctor to end the strike, saying that some of his requests have already been met and the government is working to comply with the others.
Dr. KC, a former orthopedic surgeon and professor at Nepal's Tribhuwan University Hospital, retired in October 2019 after 26 years of service. After several natural disasters, he served on international humanitarian missions in India, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines and Haiti. In Nepal, he has used his own savings to visit the most remote villages in the country and offer free medical treatment to the poor.
Although this doctor has gone on several hunger strikes over the past nine years, there has been little progress. Every time the government negotiated with him and they reached an agreement, he ended his strike but the government never delivered on the promises made.
In an interview with the Image channel in October 2019, Dr. KC explained:
In the beginning, I thought politicians were unaware of the challenges people in remote villages face; I later realized that politicians are not here to serve the country, but to serve their own personal agenda and make money. That's the reason I have to return to my hunger strikes, again and again – they compelled me to do so.
At first, I thought that politicians were not aware of the challenges that people in the most remote villages face; Then I realized that they are not there to serve the country, but to serve their own interests and earn money. This is the reason why I have to go back to my hunger strikes again and again, they made me do it.
Public versus private healthcare
The COVID-19 pandemic has added further pressure to Nepal's already weak public health system, which lacks infrastructure, resources and transparency.
Equipment and resources are so poorly distributed that many lose their lives for lack of timely medical attention. The Health Ministry has come under fire for making what many consider irresponsible and unethical decisions regarding the pandemic, including its decision to expand the use of ineffective rapid tests. In addition, there have also been irregularities in the purchase of some drugs.
While stories of positive government actions are news on several occasions, public hospitals in Nepal are generally poorly equipped and remain centralized, making it difficult for citizens in remote areas to access.
In contrast, private hospitals, which are often owned by political leaders and other powerful individuals, are unregulated, expensive, and can operate freely without government interference.
Most wealthy Nepalese, including politicians, travel abroad for medical treatment, raising the question of whether public funds are used to pay for such trips.
In a tweet about the unreliability of care in private hospitals, netizen Sudin Sayami, who posted a graphic in solidarity with Dr. KC, noted:
मेरो छिमेकी कोर्ना भएर वयोदा अस्पतालमा ७ दिन सुतेको ५ लाख सकायो, निको भयो।
अर्को छिमेकी टेकु अस्पतालमा ६ दिन सुत्यो पैसाको नामै लिएन, निको भयो
एकजना आफन्त ग्राण्डी अस्पतालमा ८ दिन सुतेको १५ लाख तिर्यो र मर्यो। बिरामी हेर्न नि दिएन, लाश पनि हेर्न दिएन
यसैको लागी लड्दैछ पागल बुढो pic.twitter.com/Ki15X5g2R1
– सुदिन 🇳🇵 (@SudinSayami) September 29, 2020
My neighbor had corona (virus), spent seven days in Voyoda hospital, spent 500,000 Nepalese rupees (4,270 US dollars). He recovered. Another neighbor spent six days in Teku hospital and was not charged anything for his treatment. A relative, who spent eight days in the Grandi hospital, paid 1,500,000 rupees (US $ 12,810) and died. No one was allowed to see the patient or the body. This is what the crazy old man is fighting for.
Public support for Dr. KC
Thousands of Nepalese who followed Dr. KC's path, including doctors, politicians, celebrities and other members of the public, believe that his requests are legitimate. Therefore, they have turned to social networks to support the cause, with labels like #IAmWithDrKC (I'm with Dr. KC), # WearewithDrKC (We're with Dr. KC) and #SaveDrKc (Hail Dr KC) to express support and call for action:
– Punya Bhandari (@ PunyaBhandari1) September 30, 2020
(The) Government should comply with Dr. KC's requests and save his life, at least for the good of 30 million Nepalese! These doctors cannot be born again!
The National Human Rights Commission has also urged the Government to protect the life of Dr. KC and to make public the details of the agreements signed with him. In addition, it has requested a report on the progress of the Government's implementation of the agreed demands.
Efforts are not in vain
Despite the difficulties, Dr. KC's efforts have brought several positive changes, notably the approval of the National Law on Medical Education, which finally paved the way for reforms and normalization efforts in medical education.
This new law means that the country's Medical Education Commission would decide issues like admissions, exams, and fees. Scholarship fees for medical education and university faculty control have also been increased.
However, the current path of Dr. KC indicates that there is still much to be done: his protests are not being fully heard and the urgent problems of the country's healthcare sector remain without the attention they deserve. Until they do, Nepal will continue to fall short of global health standards and Dr. KC will most likely continue his hunger strikes.