India’s life-saving gift gathers dust in Nepal

November 9th, 2010 - 3:14 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Nov 9 (IANS) A gift from the Indian government that cost NRS 149 crore and could have saved thousands of lives in Nepal has been gathering dust for two years, lying unused, thanks to the protracted political instability in the country.

The 200-bed Nepal Bharat Maitri Emergency and Trauma Centre built in Kathmandu by India following Nepal’s request has not been inaugurated even two years after it was built as Nepal’s finance ministry has not allocated any budget for it.

The memorandum of understanding for the trauma centre, the second of its kind in the region after the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, was signed in 2003 by the then Indian ambassador to Nepal Shyam Saran and Nepal’s Finance Secretary, Bhanu Prasad Acharya.

As per the agreement, India was to have built the centre and equipped it after which it was to have been run by Nepal.

The emergency trauma centre, with its six operation theatres, is deemed essential for a country like Nepal that has the highest number of road accidents in South Asia.

But though the building was completed in 2008, Nepal’s National Academy of Medical Sciences, the authority that would run the centre, has yet not been able to recruit the specialists needed and other personnel because the government has not allocated any budget.

At a rough estimate, the trauma centre needs NRS 3,000 to run a single bed per day and at least 400 medical and paramedical personnel to run it 24 hours like AIIMS, which has about 1,100 staffers.

Since the fall of the Maoist government last year, political turmoil exacerbated in the nascent republic, forcing Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign June 30.

However, even four months later, parliament has not been able to elect a new premier due to the fight among the major parties for power and now, the caretaker government has been blocked by the Maoists from tabling the budget.

There have been 16 rounds of failed vote to elect a new prime minister and the 17th round, scheduled Nov 15, is also unlikely to resolve the political crisis.

According to the World Bank, Nepal has just enough money to last till Nov 15 after which the caretaker government will not be able to pay salaries and meet its daily expenses.

An increasingly concerned Indian government has taken up the issue several times with Nepal but to no avail.

Besides the Indian ambassador to Nepal’s communications with Nepal’s Health Minister Umakant Chaudhury, India’s federal Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has also conveyed to Chaudhary India’s desire to hand over the trauma centre to the Nepali authorities at the earliest.

“We want to hand over the trauma centre at the earliest to be dedicated to the people of Nepal,” said Puneet R. Kundal, counsellor at the economic cooperation division of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu that is handling the project. “The Indian government is also ready to provide training, if needed.”

However, there has been no response from the Nepali authorities.

In August this year, the Maoists, the largest party in parliament, suffered a setback when their veteran MP from the Terai plains, Ram Kumari Yadav, suffered third-degree burns after a gas leak at her residence.

Yadav had to be flown out to New Delhi for medical treatment as Nepal lacked a speciality centre to treat her horrific injuries.

She died in New Delhi. Perhaps her life - and those of thousands of other accident victims - could have been saved had Nepal’s own trauma centre been up and running.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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