Govinda KC treats patients in remote Nepal

Govinda KC, Nepal’s crusading surgeon and health activist, plastering a patient's ankle at the Mugu District Hospital on Sunday. He saw 177 patients for free in five days before travelling on to Jumla on foot. Photos: ACHYUTRAJ BHANDARI

Health reform activist Govinda KC, who has been on 17 hunger strikes to pressure the government to make medical care more affordable, has been holding free clinics for patients in hospitals and COVID-19 isolation wards in western Nepal ever since the pandemic started.

KC arrived in Gamgadi on 5 August after walking two days from Jumla, and immediately started free consultations with patients, performing emergency operations at the Mugu District Hospital. He has seen 177 patients since then, and performed three operations.

KC is himself an orthopaedic surgeon, and has made it his life’s mission to make medical care free and accessible to the Nepalis who need it the most. His hunger strikes were protests against government interference in the health sector, and collusion between politicians and tycoons involved in medical education that was driving up costs.  

As word spread that KC had arrived at the Mugu District Hospital last week, patients from surrounding villages started pouring into Gamgadi to have relatives examined. He has also been training resident surgeons on surgical procedures.

“For us, he is god,” said 17-year-old Gagan Bham from Rara, whom KC operated on for a fracture in his ankle.

Also from Rara is 10-year-old Reshma Bham who had broken her hand while grazing livestock last year. KC operated on her, and straightened out her arm which is now plastered and in a sling.

“We lived up in the mountains and did not have the money get her treated. We were afraid our daughter would be disabled for life, Dr KC was sent here by god,” said Reshma’s mother Danta, who added that she had heard about KC’s arrival by chance on the radio.

After working without a break for 12 hours a day, on Monday KC returned on foot to Jumla.  KC has been on a tour of remote northwestern Nepal, where health care is neither accessible not affordable for a majority of people. The need for medical attention has gone up since quarantine centres and isolation wards have been set up for COVID-19 patients in the region, most of whom are returnees from India.

KC has not been welcomed everywhere. Last month, a government health post in Rimi of Dolpo district refused to let the crusading doctor see patients there, saying he did not have government permission.  KC nevertheless saw some patients before travelling on to Bajura.

One of KC’s hunger strikes was in Jumla two years ago where he demanded that medical colleges should be opened in every province in Nepal, and he wanted the Karnali Institute of Health Sciences to be the centre for Karnali Province. He broke his hunger strike after government assurances in 2018. But seeing no progress has been made to fulfil that demand, last month in Jumla he threatened to go on another hunger strike.