Congress pledges free healthcare, experts doubt its implementation

At a time when the entire country is grappling with the dengue virus crisis and witnessing a new surge in Covid-19 cases, the Nepali Congress party on Saturday launched its election manifesto, promising free healthcare services.

Interestingly, not a single word about communicable diseases — the ongoing dengue epidemic and the rising cases of coronavirus — is mentioned in the manifesto.

The ruling party has also made several unfulfilled promises, including reducing the death rate from non-communicable diseases by one-third.

“I don’t think the promises mentioned in the NC election manifesto will be fulfilled,” said Dr. Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division. “This document only talks about the result but keeps mum about the program. Even the ruling political party does not know how the promises made in the election manifesto will be fulfilled.”

Among the promises made in the manifesto, many are related to the Sustainable Development Goals, which Nepal has made international commitments to meet.

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According to the NC document, the maternal mortality rate, which is currently 236, will be reduced to 80 per 100,000 live births in the next five years. In addition, the group is committed to reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases, which currently account for 71 percent of deaths, to one-third.

The current average life expectancy of 71.45 years will be increased to 73 years, the NC document said, without elaborating.

Experts say many factors, including access to health care, hygiene, diet, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and crime rates, determine life expectancy, and the manifesto doesn’t say much about them.

“There is no need to mention the SDGs in the political party’s election manifesto because the government itself has already made promises and successive governments have been working on them,” said Dr. Binjawala Shrestha, a public health expert. “Political parties should only commit to what is possible.”

The manifesto made a lofty announcement to cover all people covered by government health insurance, which is only about 20 percent at the moment. This plan covers the treatment of serious illnesses for those who are insured.

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Likewise, the group has committed to increasing the insurance amount to R1 million from the existing Rs100,000. However, the truth is that many health centers have stopped providing free treatment under insurance plans due to the failure of the government to return this money on time.

Treatment for children below three years and adults above 73 years will be provided free of cost, the manifesto said.

The government had decided to provide free treatment to children under three years of age but this plan was not implemented. The incumbent government has also announced free emergency services, but even major hospitals, including the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, have not started the scheme.

The NC Charter promises to reduce existing malnutrition rates, free insurance for all over 65, people with disabilities, single women, and women’s public health volunteers. Free sanitary pads for all women and filling all vacant posts in health facilities are among other promises made by the party, if it is re-elected in the federal and state assembly elections to be held next month.

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Most health experts the Post spoke to criticized the authorities’ lax approach to containing the ongoing dengue epidemic. They said that many of the promises included in the new manifesto were copied from the manifestos of the previous elections.

In addition, they said, some of these promises are already in the implementation stage or are not working.

“I do not think that the programs mentioned in the manifesto will be implemented and it is not only the NC that talks about empty slogans in its manifesto. Other groups will do the same,” said Mahendra Shrestha, a former senior specialist in the Health Ministry. “What has stopped the NC-led ruling government from filling the vacant posts in the health sector?”


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