While it is desirable to decentralise medical education across the country, the govt must be on its guard to see that quality is ensured

An eight-point deal struck between the government and Dr Govinda KC Saturday midnight has ended the latter’s fast-onto-death that began on September 14. This was orthopaedic doctor KC’s 19th fast-onto-death since he first sat for one in 2012 to prevent political meddling in the medical education sector. The fact that he has had to sit for hunger strikes time and again to push his agenda through means there are anomalies galore in the medical education sector, which has seen heavy investment by the private sector. Hence, medical education - both general medicine and dentistry — has become extortionate.

But Dr KC’s lone crusade to lower the fees for medical education in Nepal and push new medical colleges away from the capital has borne fruit. As a result, fees for general medicine and dental courses have been more stabilised. The number of scholarships in government medical colleges has increased while efforts are being made to establish one government-run medical college in each of the seven provinces.

As part of the eight-point deal reached with Dr KC, the undergraduate MBBS programme will be started at the Karnali Academy of Health Sciences in midwest Nepal from the next academic session. Two other medical colleges in Kailali and Rapti will start the course from 2024. Similarly, government medical colleges are planned for Doti or Dadeldhura, Udaypur, and Ilam or Panchthar in the future. The government will also expand the coverage of polymerase chain reaction tests for Covid-19 and enhance the capacity of government hospitals to treat coronavirus and other diseases. The agreement also includes amending the National Medical Education Act 2075. Drafting a bill on higher education and a bill related to an integrated medical education academy within three weeks are other outcomes of the deal.

It is now for the government to implement these agreements with utmost sincerity so that Dr KC, 63, is not pushed into another round of hunger strike. Dr KC enjoys immense support from the medical fraternity as well as the ordinary people and civil society because his demands have no selfish interest and meeting them would improve the quality of both medical education and service in the country. For instance, introducing the related laws to determine the criteria for appointing the office bearers in the universities and academies would go a long way in ensuring that they are done so in an impartial and transparent manner and not based on political connections as is the case with many of the appointments today. A string of medical colleges run by the government should make medical education in the future more affordable and accessible to a lot more deserving students from the low-income bracket.

However, while it is desirable to decentralise medical education across the country, the government must be on its guard to see that quality is ensured. So far, medical colleges run by the state have had a good reputation — quite unlike many private sector ones or graduates returning from abroad — and we would like to see that being upheld in the newly established colleges as well.

Tough rules revoked

It is good news that the government has decided to waive off the mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine rule for foreign tourists before they embark on trekking or mountaineering. The government had to relent to pressures from the stakeholders, who said the rule was impractical as foreign tourists are required to produce a negative PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) report of the test carried out 72 hours before boarding a fight. With the new rule coming into force, foreign tourists who wish to visit Nepal from October 17 will be allowed to travel to any part of the country without them having to stay in hotel quarantine for seven days.

Besides, the foreigners meeting the required criteria will be provided visa on arrival at TIA. Another mandatory provision of Covid-19 insurance of US$ 5,000 for visiting tourists has also been dropped.

However, they are required to cover personal medical expenses themselves. Although there is little chance of foreigners coming here as cases of coronavirus are still rising, the new rules should come as a big relief for them should they wish to visit the country. More attractive packages could help promote tourism business in this time of recession.