........................................................................with words, with issues!!!

Jul 3, 2016


(First published in The Kathmandu Post )

Dr. Guna Raj Awasthi, Medical Superintendent of District hospital, Baitadi was busy with a line of patients in the hospital on June 5 when a group of women smeared black soot on his face. It was later understood that they were incited by a local Nepali Congress leader Ramesh Koli who badly wanted to settle scores with this hugely popular doctor. Several weeks down the line, Koli is still at large.

The larger story

In order to justify their inhumane act, the assailants had this to say: the hospital did not provide free ambulance service to Hira Bhul, a pregnant with triplet who was referred from there to the higher centre. In contrast, the larger story was: Hira was examined by Dr. Awasthi a couple of days before the incident and as he found out that the condition of one of the fetuses was quite abnormal, she was instantly referred to the higher centre where any ensuing complications could be managed. In fact, upon learning that the patient was poor and helpless; Dr. Awasthi even managed to collect the fund for them. He contributed Rs. 1000 from his side and Rs.1500 from the hospital committee. As for the ambulance, he had personally requested ‘Dasarath Chand Pratisthan’ to avail it as the hospital’s ambulance was out of the town.  
It goes without saying that this is a despicable act in its entirety and needs to be highly condemned. But it has also provided us an occasion to introspect: Why are doctors routinely facing threats and attacks in the workplace? Sadly, this assault is far from an isolated incident and thus this news did not come as a surprise. News of doctors being beaten, verbally abused and hospitals getting vandalized are surfacing every now and then.  Besides, Nepalese doctors are not unique in facing this situation. Even countries like China and UK are going through all this. Why?
There are reasons aplenty. Doctor-patient relationship is at an all-time low. With the mushrooming of private medical colleges, medical education has been hit hard and the crucial ‘quality factor’ in the newly produced numerous doctors is under question. The public can be blamed for their low health literacy but there have been several occasions in the recent past when the failure in effective communication with the patients has led to gross misunderstandings and subsequent unfortunate incidents. With the continued commodification of healthcare, patient satisfaction has sharply plummeted with doctors significantly losing their trust. And if the state fails to regulate the medical education and leaves it in the hands of Mafioso as in the present, one can only expect the cases of medical negligence to rise. Add these all, and you get a sense of why the incidence of violence against once highly regarded professionals is bound to increase in the days ahead.
Now the question is: Can’t this be averted?  Of course, yes. Dr. Govinda KC has been in the forefront of the campaign to reform the health sector and if the citizenry backs him up to change this ugly underside of medical education, things will definitely get better.

Omnipresent Impunity

However, if we try to construct Dr. Awasthi’s case around the argument that negligence had compelled them to do so, we are wrong. He is a doctor par excellence with stellar track records, both on technical and humanitarian grounds. This is, no doubt, a politically motivated pre-meditated attack. Unnerved about his growing popularity, local party leaders with vested interests were seeking to transfer this doctor elsewhere. It is against this backdrop that few relatives of the patient were coaxed and provoked to manhandle him.
Under the leadership of Dr. Awasthi, Baitadi has witnessed a remarkable progress in health sector. In the health ranking done by Nepal Government based on various health parameters, Baitadi was one of the 5 worst performing districts. But once he assumed the office, it has now become fourth climbing up 65 positions. Even a cursory look at the statistics will reveal how much he has worked for the overall improvement in the health care delivery system of Baitadi. For this outstanding performance, he has been already felicitated with the Health Service Award. Among health workers, he has a reputation for endless service to the people of rural areas and is thus seen as a constant source of inspiration for scores of doctors working in the hinterlands.
In a nation where the culture of impunity has been institutionalized, it is no wonder that the party hooligans who orchestrate such attacks are offered political protection. We have little hope that the culprit will be brought to book, because anyone under the garb of political party is above the law in this land.
Until and unless we end this culture of treating the politicos as more equal, medical reforms alone will not bring about the desired working environment for medics. At least this is what the Awasthi case has proved. Bringing more security guards in the hospital is not the answer, strict enforcement of the law and ending the omnipresent culture of impunity is.
Let us allow to work with only the patients’ best interests in mind. By resorting to hooliganism upon the slightest pretext, we are not only harming the health care environment but also demoralizing the bright young minds from choosing medicine as their career. We are pushing them to the folds of the U.S and Australia.

It is high time the general public understood the costs of unsafe working environment.


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