The govt’s decision will help instill confidence in our health facilities and stop the flow of scarce foreign exchange outside
The government’s decision not to bear the expenses of anyone going abroad for medical treatment is both welcome and timely. This is in keeping with the Public Health Service Act, 2018, whose legal provision has come into effect with its publication in the Nepal Gazette. Until now, VVIPs, VIPs, ministers and political leaders saw it as their privilege to draw millions from the state treasury for their treatment abroad. As a result, they made a beeline to foreign countries even for the treatment of simple diseases, such as cataract surgery. While most went to India, Bangkok in Thailand and Singapore were becoming other popular destinations. It was ethically and morally wrong of them to be dipping into the state coffers when even basic health services are beyond the reach of the people living in the rural areas of Nepal. The money spent on the treatment of one bigwig in a hospital abroad could treat hundreds of people in Nepal. And quite often, those in the government and party leaders have been found misusing the privilege to go abroad for medical treatment to meet their parochial political interests. Instead of trying to create an egalitarian society, what the privilege did was it created two classes of citizens – one advantaged, the other disadvantaged, which was bound to foment resentment in society.
With the stoppage of resources for the treatment of dignitaries abroad, the money saved could be put into more productive areas. For instance, a separate fund under the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) is to be set up, as per the recently endorsed Disadvantaged Citizens Medical Treatment Fund directive, to provide financial aid to citizens in need of special medical care and treatment. Needy citizens will be entitled to a grant of upto Rs 400,000 for the treatment of prescribed diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzhimer’s disease, renal failure, head and spinal injury and sickle cell anaemia in a government facility. But, no one will be entitled to the fund’s resources to meet the expenses incurred while undergoing treatment abroad.
Nepal may be facing multiple problems on all fronts, including the medical sector, but today it can boast of quite a number of standard health facilities in the government sector, both in the capital and outside. Add to these private sector institutions where even billions have been invested in state-of-the-art equipment to provide world-class healthcare, although this comes at a price. Today quality treatment for diseases, ranging from ophthalmology to heart problems, and orthopaedic to cancer, can be had here in the country’s hospitals. By having the VIPs seek treatment here in the country itself, what this will do is instill confidence in our health facilities and personnel, and stop the flow of scarce foreign exchange outside. The government is obliged to keep striving to improve the quality of healthcare services in the government health institutions by constantly upgrading the equipment, training of doctors and good management. Quite a good number of foreign patients already come to Nepal for medical treatment. With the right policy, Nepal could be a hub of medical tourism.
The growing number of community forests in the hills has largely contributed to controlling soil erosion and in maintaining forest cover across the country. It has also contributed greatly to reducing greenhouse emission as forests absorb large amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere. Community forestry has been touted as one of the successful initiatives in Nepal, where the local people have immensely benefited from the conservation efforts, which took decades to come to this stage.
With the growth of community forestry, it has also created new problems for the local people. Wild animals, particularly the monkeys and wild boars, pose a serious threat to the communities lying close to the forest areas. They destroy the standing crops during harvesting time. Many families have deserted their place or have stopped growing crops due to the monkeys and the wild boars. Many rural municipalities are now allocating funds to control the monkey menace. The locals of Temkemaiyum Rural Municipality in Bhojpur have started building bamboo cages to trap the invading simians. This method has become quite effective in deterring them from entering the villages. This shows how an indigenous technique can help address a local problem.
A version of this article appears in print on February 27, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.