Nepal doctors' strike leaves patients stranded

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepalese doctors shut hospitals and clinics across the Himalayan nation, leaving thousands of patients stranded Monday, as part of a campaign to reform medical education, the national doctors' association said.

Doctors were still providing emergency and intensive care but all other services have been halted indefinitely since Sunday in a strike to support a surgeon leading the campaign, Nepal Medical Association (NMA) officials said.

Orthopedic surgeon Govinda K.C., who works at the state-run Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, began a hunger strike ten days ago to protest the alleged political appointment of the institution's new dean.

"We are aware that thousands of patients have been hit hard by our strike.

But we were forced to resort to this after our senior doctor faced a life-threatening condition," NMA spokesman Lochan Karki told AFP, referring to the hunger strike.

"We fully support his demands... we feel that there are better qualified persons for the job," Mr Karki said.

The 56-year-old surgeon is also campaigning against alleged political interference in appointing heads of medical colleges and was pushing for greater transparency and autonomy in state-run teaching hospitals.

The Supreme Court Monday ordered the doctors to return to work immediately, citing a law which bans strikes in hospitals and health centres. But the NMA said in a statement late Monday the strike would continue. "Our office hasn't received the court orders yet," Milan Chandra Khanal, an NMA official, told AFP.

Mr Govinda, well-known in Nepal for his philanthropic efforts to help victims of disasters at home and internationally, was also calling on authorities to open more medical colleges in the country's remote areas, instead of focusing on Kathmandu.

Nepal is home to some 400 private and state-run hospitals and thousands of clinics, which serve over 100,000 patients daily, according to an estimate by NMA official Milan Chandra Khanal.

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