On June 18, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba assured the people of the far-west region that within a few days, the cabinet meeting would allow Geta Medical College to operate as an institution. It was what medical reform campaigner Dr Govinda KC had been demanding time and again.
After multiple ultimatums when the government delayed the commitment of past deals, Dr KC had said he would start a hunger strike at the under-construction Geta Medical College in Dhangadhi. And soon after, the government’s neglectful behaviour made Dr KC start his 20th fast-unto-death (satyagraha) at Krishna Mandir complex in Dhangadhi on September 12 with a 7-point demand.
KC demanded that an umbrella act be introduced to govern the health science institutes, and with necessary arrangements, the Geta Medical College should be brought into operation immediately.
But, the ambitious institution, on which the government has already spent billions of rupees, still remains in limbo, and no one is certain when the project, which was introduced over two decades ago, will come into operation.
The topic of contention
Medical colleges are not a new topic of debate in the far-west. The government allocated 77 bighas (44.39 hectares) of land in front of Geta Eye Hospital in 1999 for the establishment of the Geta Medical College. But, this has been an unfulfilled project, which parties try to use as their promise ahead of every election.
The government had allocated a budget for the feasibility study in 2008. A year later, the National Planning Commission allocated Rs 110 million to construct the buildings. Meanwhile, the government also formed Geta Medical College Structure Development Committee.
Things seemed to be moving forward when the foundation stone was also laid in 2014, but the infrastructure construction got delayed for three years, citing environmental impact assessment and deforestation issues.
In Dr KC’s fifth fast-unto-death, the government committed to building five government medical colleges in five locations across Nepal, in the next five years, one including Geta Medical College in Sudurpaschim.
But, the government failed to keep the promise.
Once again, on September 25, the government signed a 10-point agreement with Dr KC and has promised to prepare the Martyr Dasharath Chand Health Education Academy Bill and submit it to the federal parliament and start the medical education programme at Geta Medical College within the deadline set in the National Medical Education Act, 2018 (February 22, 2024).
The costly infrastructures
The 28 modern buildings of Geta College in Kailali with a capacity of 600 beds for the hospital and medical college cost around Rs 5 billion. Around 90 per cent of the construction work has been completed.
According to Hemraj Pujara, College Infrastructure Construction Development Committee’s executive director, only one of the 13 infrastructure packages is under construction now. Pujara says the internal roads, sewage management, water, and electricity connections of that package are being constructed.
Though the government appointed the director of the project, it has paid no attention to appointing the remaining human resources. Along with Director Pramod Joshi, the Ministry of Health has appointed another doctor.
Director Pramod Joshi defends the lack of necessary budget to appoint the people and procure the equipment has posed an obstacle to the operation of Geta Medical College. He says, in the first phase, he kept requesting the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of General Administration to send the administrative staff. But, the matter was never a priority of the government.
He says that a hospital with 100 beds can be operated within the next six months by borrowing some equipment from the health service department. “We have immediately planned to operate 100, then 300 and 600 beds,” he says, maintaining implementing it, however, remains difficult.
Meanwhile, he says, taking into consideration that a 300-bed hospital should have been in operation three years ago, the government should highly prioritise the matter.
According to Joshi, no matter which model–the medical university, health science institute, or medical college–the institution goes into, a hospital should first come into operation. That is why Geta Medical College needs the help of the federal and provincial governments, political parties, and intellectuals to operate as soon as possible.
Rush to take credit
Although the physical infrastructure of the Geta Medical College has been built, it seems that it will take a few more years to operate it.
At present, there are 25 government and private medical colleges across Nepal. All provinces except for Sudurpaschim has at least one medical college. The residents of the province are all forced to go to hospitals in Lucknow and New Delhi of India to get treatment for any serious illness.
Regardless of the need and the number of leaders from the province that have risen to the top, Sudurpaschim is lacking the commitment and implementation from the leaders, argues Ganesh Bahadur Singh, a former medical superintendent of Seti Provincial Hospital.
According to him, though Seti is a government-run province-level hospital, due to limited resources, patients who need surgery have to wait for months at times. “Due to the lack of the medical staff and equipment, patients have to seek expensive treatment outside.”
Singh also highlights that the leaders of all parties and levels from Sudurpaschim should unite to bring it into operation as soon as possible.
Academy or university?
There has been a lot of discussion about the operating model of Geta Medical College, but it has been inconclusive.
There is confusion about the modality of the institution. Stakeholders are divided on whether to operate it as an institution under some university or build it as an independent university itself.
In the annual policy and programme of the government, it is mentioned that Geta and Dadeldhura medical colleges will be brought into operation under the Sudurpaschim University. But, local stakeholders, intellectuals, and people’s representatives believe that it should operate as a university and should be kept away from politics.
Singh of Seti Provincial Hospital says it would be wise to open a medical university in the Sudurpaschim province. But, many stakeholders are yet to buy that idea.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.