EDITORIAL: Stick to pact

Private medical colleges would not have been much of an issue had they not become highly profitable commercial ventures instead of being a social investment

Discourse on the pros and cons of the National Medical Education Bill, endorsed by the parliamentary Education and Health Committee on Wednesday without addressing the key demands of Senior Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Govinda KC, tends to miss the forest for the trees. The bill is centred more on whether or not to allow the private sector to open medical colleges, while Dr KC’s crusade is for bringing quality to medical education in Nepal. Opening of medical colleges in the country by the private sector would not have been much of an issue had they not become highly profitable commercial ventures instead of being a social investment. In the pursuit of quick profit, most of the colleges compromised on their infrastructure and teaching, which ultimately had telling impact on the quality of doctors produced. Some medical colleges do not even have the required number of beds in the teaching hospital or the faculty to teach the different subjects. Unlike graduates of government-run medical institutes, students of private colleges have difficulty passing the Nepal Medical Council exams, with some private colleges even seeing zero passes.

Following the endorsement of the bill, Dr KC has started his fast-onto-death – his 16th - from the eastern city of Ilam, demanding inclusion of all the contents of the agreement reached with him in July last year. Some of KC’s demands include incorporating the words “Mathema Commission Report’ in the preamble of the bill and phasing out short-term CTEVT courses. The bill partially meets the demands of Dr KC, such as putting a stop to the opening of new medical colleges in the Kathmandu Valley for 10 years, but it allows universities to provide affiliation to medical colleges outside  it if they have taken the Letter of Intent and meet the required criteria, to which Dr KC is opposed. All in all, the bill looks like it has been tailor-made for the opening of a particular private college rather than serving the overall interest of the medical education sector. It sounds absurd that the bill is allowing the private sector to open medical colleges outside the valley while stating that they would be made non-profit making and service-oriented after 10 years.

The government has the onus of meeting the demands stipulated in the agreement reached with Dr KC on July 26 last year. Dr KC is fighting for a cause, and there seems to be tremendous support from both the medical sector and the general public. It is not good to have the doctor go on a hunger strike every now and then, with agreements to meet his demands being breached time and again. The doctor, on the other hand, would do well to stick only to those demands concerning medical education and people’s health. He could be losing his credibility by taking up issues outside his domain, such as fair probe into the Nirmala Panta case and action against officials of the Agriculture and Forestry University. With the medical bill kicking up a storm every time it is brought in for discussion in Parliament, it might be wise for the government and the parties to take a strong decision on whether to allow private medical colleges to operate in the country at all.

Provide phone facility

Recently, the Upper Dolpa region has seen a surge of domestic and foreign tourists, thanks to the roads being built right up to its district headquarters of Dunai and regular flights to Juphal. Most of the domestic and foreign tourists prefer to visit Upper Dolpa for trekking around the Shey Phoksundo National Park. However, the region is devoid of telephone service.

The elected officials of the region recently called on Minister of Communication and Information Technology Gokul Baskota, urging him to build 16 telephone towers to connect the Upper Dolpa region with the rest of the country. They say it takes four to five days for them to reach the villages where a telephone facility is available. Dolpa is the largest district in the country. It, however, is disappointing to note that half of the district’s population is yet to be connected with telephone service. Communication facility is a basic need of the people. The federal government must provide the needed facility at the earliest. Once the region is connected with mobile phone facility it could emerge as a major tourist destination because of its unique natural landscape.