As government doctors go on strike, the country’s poor suffer the most

  • Several state-run health facilities were overwhelmed on Sunday by patients, most of whom were visiting from outside of Kathmandu, only to be refused medical care.
- Arjun Poudel, Kathmandu

Apr 8, 2019-

While the rest of the world marked World Health Day on Sunday, tens of thousands of people across Nepal struggled to get basic health care services because of the ongoing strike by doctors in government-run hospitals.

Over 1,400 doctors who work in government health facilities across the country have refused to attend to patients as part of their protest, demanding the government don’t readjust them under the civil servant adjustment, which they say blocks their career prospects. According to estimates, over 200,000 patients reach government health facilities throughout the country every day. On Sunday, children in need of treatment suffered the most because of the strike.

Krishna Lama from Simara of Bara district had to wait for more than six hours to get his newborn twins examined at Kanti Children Hospital, a premium paediatric hospital run by the government. According to Lama, his 17-day-old twins were suffering from jaundice.

A few doctors, hired by the Hospital Development Committee, were struggling to provide outpatient services in front of the ticket counter, as the hospital continued to see the number of patients growing by the hour.

According to officials, the number of patients visiting Kanti Hospital was high because of holidays on Friday and Saturday.

The situation was no different at Bir Hospital and the National Trauma Centre.

Ram Bahadur Magar, 73, of Dhading reached Bir Hospital seeking treatment for his renal problem. But he was forced to return without treatment.

At the hospital, a group of 15 to 20 doctors were busy delivering speeches, explaining the need to hold the strike—and how the government forced them to resort to protests.

“The government does not seem to be serious about our problems. Nor is it concerned about the plight of the patients,” Dr Dipendra Pandey, chairman of the Government Doctors Association of Nepal, an umbrella body of government doctors across the country, told the Post.

According to the association, they have been expecting the government to make a move and hold talks to find a way out. But this wasn’t the first time government doctors had resorted to protest.

Last month, hundreds of doctors refused to provide services for several days until Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli personally assured that his administration would address their concerns.

According to government doctors association, they were forced to relaunch their protests on Friday because they did not hear from the government.

Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, told the Post on Saturday that his ministry was aware of the doctors’ problems and the patients’ sufferings. But Shrestha said he had nothing to tell the media. “I neither have instructions nor the mandate from the secretary and the minister,” he said.

When the Post reached out to Dr Pushpa Chaudhary, secretary at the Health Ministry, she said she was out of the Valley and that she knew nothing about the recent developments.

Health Minister Upendra Yadav, who was in Chitwan, was scheduled to return to Kathmandu on Sunday evening, while State Minister for Health Dr Surendra Kumar Yadav is currently in China.

The majority of Nepalis rely on government health facilities because private medical facilities charge exorbitant fees. But when services at government hospitals are halted, the poor bear the brunt.

“We understand the plight of the patients. But the government left us with no option than to resort to protests,” said Pandey, chairman of the government doctors association. “It has not even called us for dialogue.”

The government doctors’ strike entered the third day on Sunday and there are no signs of services resuming anytime soon.

The agitating government doctors have been saying that some provisions of the Civil Servants Adjustment Bill are against their career prospects, as they bar them from working under the federal government. According to officials, the situation has already become complicated because the bill has already been passed by Parliament and that the only way to address the agitating doctors’ concerns is an amendment to the bill.

On Sunday afternoon, at the National Trauma Centre, a patient told the Post that he had no idea why the doctors were protesting.

Mangal Bahadur Bishwokarma, a 45-year-old man from Dhading, said he waited until 2pm on Sunday for treatment of his broken arm.

“I was told last week to visit today for surgery, so I endured the pain for a week and now I am denied service,” he told the Post, holding his right broken arm in a sling. “When I reached the ticket counter, a security guard told me doctors are on strike and was asked to visit when the protest is over.”

Published: 08-04-2019 11:27

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