Any government of an underdeveloped country has no choice but to provide its poor citizens with low-cost medical drugs and services. But it is unfortunate that the government at home slapped a five per cent tax on medical services through an ordinance promulgated in January. The doctors claim that the new tax would affect the middle and low classes, who would be unable to bear the extra cost, and it would be unfair to ask the already suffering poor to pay the increased cost at a time when they are struggling just to survive amidst rising inflation and violence. The doctors also argue that though they provide free treatment to 20 to 25 per cent of patients daily, the new scheme would force them to cover the tax for them also. This is an impractical proposition from the doctors’ point of view.
Ideally speaking, there should have been no confusion at all concerning one of the most essential public services. Instead, the situation is getting out-of-hand since the doctors have now threatened to stage a strike if the scheme is not withdrawn because, according to them, medical services cannot be treated at par with commodities like cigarettes and alcohol, which attract excise duty. If some 140 doctors, currently registered with the Nepal Medical Association, go ahead with the said strike, it is the poor who would ultimately have to bear the brunt. After all, it is always the underprivileged lot who suffer in any collision between the private sector and the state.
To avoid any untoward and divisive course of action, it would be prudent to firstly define the very phase ‘medical services’ to avoid any misunderstanding concerning what are included in it. And secondly, rather than clashing, both the parties in the current fray should opt for a solution through compromise and mutual accommodation so that the tussle does not hamper the medical services, and in the process compromise the canons governing the treatment regime.