Thapa scores high for reforms

  • Health minister, however, faces accusations of promoting cronyism
- Manish Gautam, Kathmandu

Jun 5, 2017-

Making health care affordable to the people and strengthening the government health institutions and health system as a whole remained major achievements of Health Minister Gagan Thapa as he held his last press conference on Sunday as a minister in Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Cabinet.

When he assumed that role on August 27 last year, Thapa did not have prior experience in any ministerial positions.

Eloquent Thapa had served as chairperson of the Agriculture and Water Resource Committee and was hailed for issuing stringent directives to the government.

As a popular leader of the mass, Thapa spoke vehemently against workings of the government and all eyes were on him after he took charge of the Health Ministry, which is considered to be fraught with irregularities and messy health system.  

Thapa himself admitted in the initial days that fixing the health system would perhaps be his most daunting challenge. 

Nine months on though, many experts in the health sector closely observing Thapa’s works, deemed him as a successful health minister and a person who worked to develop affordable healthcare.

“He must be the only minister who did not court any controversies, especially in terms of financial irregularities and procurement issues,” said Dr Yasobardhan Pradhan, former director general of the Department of Health Services.

“His decisions and policy reforms were more focused on strengthening health systems and providing affordable care to the people from government hospitals.”

During his tenure, Thapa focused heavily on policy reforms. Around 20 policies, acts and regulations were either formulated, drafted or amended.

That includes Health Insurance Bill--currently under consideration at Parliament--aimed at bringing all the citizens on board the government’s social health insurance programme. It is being piloted in eight districts. The Hospital Pharmacy Regulations was another key reform that mandates each government hospital to establish its own pharmacy. 

These pharmacies, now established in 61 hospitals, provide drugs at almost half the market prices. 

The Health Ministry has already formulated a framework that envisions the health system in federal setup, easing the task of local representatives and central government.

The free kidney transplantation was a boon to the poor patients, as Thapa worked to curb on the arbitrary distribution of money from state coffers to treat politicians and influential people abroad. 

Dr Bhagwan Koirala, a renowned cardiologist and health policy advisor, said Thapa became a minister at a precarious time when everyone thought that if he fails to deliver, his political carrier would be at stake.

“But he proved himself as a dynamic leader. Thapa should continue as a health minister in the new government at least to institutionalise the efforts that he has initiated,” he  said.

Despite changes he tried to bring about in the health sector, Thapa was not devoid of criticism, especially for the political appointment in hospital committees and academies.

“At least a leader like Thapa could have stopped these political apportion of position at health councils and academies,” said Dr Koirala. 

Dr Pradhan also believes that hiring an entire set of Congress loyalists in hospital committees proved that Thapa was no different from other ministers. 

Thapa denied such charges, but conceded that he might have made some unintentional mistakes. “I had to prove myself in a limited time. I believe I have succeeded on that front,” said Thapa.

“The workings of a coalition government are complex. I still need over six months to show the results of my works. And I would certainly like to continue as a health minister.”

Published: 05-06-2017 08:46

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