June 20, 2023
KATHMANDU – Nepal Medical Council lists almost 28,000 medical doctors in Nepal, but five-time former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba seems to have failed to find a half-decent one for whatever ails him. What else explains his flight to Singapore for what is touted as a follow-up of his previous treatment? In a free society, everyone is entitled to seek the best treatment for their illness, and this does not exclude public personalities. Moreover, an individual’s health is a private matter. In some cases, strategic reasons make it pertinent to keep the medical status of a public figure, not least a top political leader, private. By this token, Deuba should have no qualms about spending his money—considering it is his own—on medical tourism.
However, as an essential member of the political gentry that has for decades sold false dreams to the people—on turning Nepal into Singapore or Switzerland, for instance—Deuba has a few questions to answer once he returns home: What extraordinary medical care did he get abroad that Nepal would not be able to provide, and what would he do next to ensure that the Nepalis get in Nepal what he got abroad? How much did he spend on his luxurious foreign medical trip? Who funded the treatment? And, as importantly, did he meet anyone with conflict of interest on the sidelines of his treatment?
Yes, leaders who make lofty, egalitarian promises but represent the interests of a neoliberal capitalist political high class have questions to answer. And Deuba is just a symptom of a deep-rooted malaise among the class. Just a couple of months back, President Ramchandra Paudel had been airlifted to New Delhi as he seemed to have little trust in the capabilities of the doctors and hospitals here. Weeks after Paudel returned from Delhi, officials at the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi were learnt to have been running from pillar to post trying to clear the pending dues from the President’s treatment.
The list of political biggies who have dug into state coffers for their lavish treatment at expensive hospitals at home and abroad is too long. Just name a top political leader, and he—yes, invariably a “he”—tops the list of those who have exploited power and position to misuse public money to solve their private problems. And one should only walk the corridors of hospitals from Patna to Lucknow to Delhi to see how the average Nepali struggles to get decent treatment for their illness. The healthcare system in the country is another saga of crisis altogether. As public hospitals reel under the deluge of patients, private hospitals have become “no-go” zones for those without big purses or insurance. To add insult to the injuries of the poor, private hospitals routinely abdicate their responsibility: Few—if any–of them, for instance, set aside the compulsory 10 percent of their beds for free treatment of the needy. If there is one group that must work the hardest to right this wrong, it is the political class that takes extravagant foreign medical trips at the slightest inconvenience.