‘Extended Bir Hospital’ in limbo as hundreds die of Covid-19 in Kathmandu every day

The under-construction Bir Hospital extension building that is operating as a community clinic, in Duwakot of Bhaktapur.

On a grassland in Duwakot of Bhaktapur lies a signboard in front of a one-storey structure that says “under-construction Bir Hospital”. 

The property is currently operating as a community health clinic that opened two years ago with the help of Bir Hospital to provide OPD services to the locals. But, because it lacks medical personnel and infrastructures, the number of people seeking services here is minimal.

If the construction had been held as the government had said it would, there would have been a fully-functioning extended Bir Hospital with a 1,000-bed capacity by this time. 

The hospital plan was announced during the 2017 elections. This instigated the hike of land prices in the area. 

But, the construction of the facility has not even started. Awaiting the construction, the letters on the board have started to fade. 

This hospital, which exists only on paper, has become an example of leaders announcing big plans during elections to rise to power and not fulfil their words afterwards.

Local Binod Khanal says the board is mocking the government. “The leaders must aim to win another election with the same promises,” he quips. Another local Ramesh Danekhu is also not happy to see that the government is failing to construct the hospital at a time when people are dying due to a lack of beds, ICUs, ventilators and oxygen at different hospitals in the valley. 

Years of planning

Danekhu has expressed his indignation on social media with the caption: “This is the under-construction Bir Hospital. Please refer the leaders here if they fall sick.”

Subash Basnet also joined him on Facebook to express his disappointment. “Even after five years of allotting the land for the construction, nothing has been done, Hospitals are not the priority of our leaders.”

The land allotted for the extended wing of Bir Hospital in Duwakot of Bhaktapur.

Medical student Achyut Khanal wrote on Twitter, “Rs 300 million for the DPR, Rs 30 billion for the hospital: Bir Hospital on papers. I have to win the next three-four elections by showing this very paper. I will instruct people to move ahead with the construction, right before the election. For now, let’s enjoy turmeric and guava.”

In the fiscal year 2016/17, the KP Sharma Oli-led government announced its plan and budget to construct Bir Hospital and expand another 1,000-bed hospital in the Kathmandu valley. It was based on the project’s master plan prepared by the National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS).

Changunarayan Mayor Som Prasad Mishra recalls the local government arranged the land the same year following the government’s direction. On February 18, 2017, the Council of Ministers also gave land approval for the hospital. 

When it was approved, people believed the budget opened roadways to the construction work.

“We are saddened that the much-awaited construction has not taken place yet,” Mishra says, adding, “This project fell victim to the constantly changing government and the health ministers.”

Big crisis before ensuring budget

The proposed design for the construction of the extended wing of Bir Hospital in Duwakot of Bhaktapur.

The hospital plan that costs around Rs 30 billion has been in limbo for five years. Surely, the budget is not an issue, but it has spent so much time seeking help from donors. 

This financial year, the government gave the member of parliaments a budget of Rs 57 billion for development in constituencies. But, the government has been waiting, withholding the budget, for the foreign aid that is likely to be invested in large infrastructures related to the health sector. Meanwhile, the donors have not shown interest given the lack of preparedness. There is no hope that an agreement will be signed any time soon.

The government has allotted a budget for the health sector as a priority after the Covid-19 pandemic began haunting the world as well as Nepal. But, it is far from thinking about planning and spending its own resources to build the hospital in Duwakot.

All in favour of construction

The under-construction Bir Hospital extension building that is operating as a community clinic, in Duwakot of Bhaktapur.

Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, in February last year, accompanied Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi and NAMS officials for a site inspection in Duwakaor and asked them to coordinate with the Nepal Electricity Authority and the Department of Roads and move ahead with the construction.

But, the DPR of this project has not been prepared yet. The Changunarayan mayor says though the land was easily available, the government has not shown any enthusiasm to work on it, on time.

According to him, China had shown interest to invest in the project, including grants and concessional loans. For that, the project first had to build basic infrastructures like roads, electricity, sewage, drinking water among others.

The government sent a letter to China last year with a commitment to prepare the infrastructures. “It was also said a Chinese team would come and prepare the DPR. But post-pandemic, they did not come, and the work stopped.”

For this, the government has allocated Rs 400 million this financial year but it is on the verge of being unspent. Preparations are underway to sign a contract worth Rs 420 million for the road construction, but without a DPR, the issue is still in limbo.

“We want the hospital to be built as planned, and on time. There is no dissatisfaction or obstruction from our sides. We are all ready to help,” expresses mayor Mishra.

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Ghimire is a senior business journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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