Dr. Mrigendra Raj Pandey’s book:Struggle for Social Service in Nepal

Remarks by Kul Chandra Gautam
on Dr. Mrigendra Raj Pandey’s book:Struggle for Social Service in Nepal,Kathmandu, 27 July 2011

Nepal is now blessed with many competent and committed medical doctors and physicians. I see quite a few of them right here, including our President, Rt. Hon Dr. Ram Baran Yadav.
While many Nepali doctors provide good medical care and serve the people, only a small number have made large-scale impact on public health nationally and globally.
Among those few, Dr. Mrigendra Raj Pandey has been a shining star.
Actually, I personally do not know Dr. Pandey very well, except through his reputation.
In Nepal I had heard about him as a famous cardiologist, who treated royalties and important personalities like the late BP Koirala.
But that is not what attracted my attention.
When I was a senior official at UNICEF, working closely with WHO, in formulating some global policies for maternal and child health, I used to come across research findings of physicians and public health specialists from around the world which influenced our global policies.
Dr. Pandey’s name came to my attention in that context.
A senior WHO colleague brought to my attention a fascinating report that in a community-based health care programme in the remote Jumla district of Nepal, under-5 mortality rate had been reduced dramatically from 330 deaths per1000 live births to 85 within a period of just a few years.
This had been achieved largely through some simple but effective interventions against acute respiratory infections.
The Jumla project had also shown the serious health consequences of indoor air pollution, and how it could be tackled partially through smokeless cooking-stoves.
I was happy to learn that this innovative action-research programme was the brain-child of a Nepali physician named Mrigendra Raj Pandey.
But as we say in Nepal – najik-ko tirtha helaa.
I had never heard anyone I met in Kathmandu talk about this project in Jumla. But it was big news in Geneva.
The evidence gathered by this project gave us the confidence that if such progress can be made in Jumla, we should be able to make similar progress in the rest of Nepal, Asia, Africa and beyond, using the same methodology.
So we actually used the findings of this project as an important basis in developing programme guidance by WHO and UNICEF for the control of ARI and promotion of child survival – globally.
It is indeed sad that in Nepal this najik-ko tirtha hela phenomenon seems to be surprisingly very common.
I recall in many international development conferences, Nepal’s high level representatives, including Ministers and diplomats, lamenting pitifully about how poor Nepal’s health services are, citing the bad status of our city hospitals, lack of specialists and sophisticated equipment, shortage of budget, etc. and begging for more foreign aid.
Yes, it is true that Nepal’s health service is plagued with many problems, and we must do more to tackle such problems. But do we always need to go to international conferences with a begging bowl and recite a laundry list of our problems?
How about talking about our successes, despite many constraints?
Interestingly, in the same international conferences, I would often hear foreign experts talk about what great progress Nepal was making in achieving some of the health-related MDGs, such as reduction of maternal and child mortality, and the fantastic contribution of our 50,000 female community health volunteers.
I rarely heard our Ministers and diplomats speaking proudly about these female health volunteers whose work has won international recognition.
Nor did I generally hear Nepali officials citing our other success stories to proudly say that we deserve more international support and solidarity – not because we are poor and have great needs, but because we have many success stories, despite great odds, which can and need to be further replicated.
Given this background, and the mood of gloom and doom currently prevailing in our country, I try to be on the look-out for examples of good things happening in Nepal that we can be proud of.
And thank goodness, there are many such examples – from the high profile cases of our CNN Hero Anuradha Koirala’s crusade against trafficking of girls and women, to the fabulous work of Dr. Sandruk Ruit out of Tilganga Eye Hospital.
But there are also many other slightly less known but no less inspiring examples of innovative work being done by individuals and institutions, including NGOs, working in the areas of health, education, community forestry, telecommunications and rural development.
Among such lesser-known organizations, doing commendable work, I would list the work of the Mrigendra-Samjhana Medical Trust.
Frankly, I did not know much about this Trust until I read Dr. Pandey’s book Struggle for Social Service in Nepal which is being released today.
It was a real pleasure for me to read this fascinating book, chronicling Dr. Pandey’s long journey in public health and social service in Nepal under the auspices of the MSMTrust, of which he was the visionary founder and remains an active promoter.
The book contains first-hand account of Dr. Pandey’s innovative and effective work in promoting anti-smoking campaign, raising awareness of hypertension and diabetes and other health and social issues.
Commendably, the MSMT’s work has been holistic, going beyond medical treatment to catering to people’s social, mental and spiritual health and well-being.
In the book, I found Dr. Pandey’s discussion of the proper use and abuse of foreign aid, and how it can distort national priorities very thoughtful.
His caution against excessive commercialization of medical education and unethical practices in some private hospitals and nursing homes in Nepal deserves our policy-makers’ special attention.
His advocacy for greater availability and use of generic drugs is right on the mark, not only for Nepal, but globally.
As I said earlier, despite many challenges, Nepal is making commendable progress in public health. It is one of the few Least Developed Countries in the world that is on track to achieve several of the health-related Millennium Development Goals.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to pioneering health leaders like Dr. Pandey for blazing the trail for such success.

I thank Dr Pandey for sharing his account and giving me an opportunity to preview his book.
I would commend the book to all of you, as I know everyone present here, and many others who are not here, will learn much and will be immensely inspired by it, as I was.
Let me conclude with my very best wishes to Dr. Pandey, a true public health hero of Nepal, and continuing success of the Mrigendra-Samjhana Memorial Trust.

Thank you.