Would you stop eating for a cause you believe in?

April 04 2015

That’s exactly what Dr. Govinda KC did. A senior orthopedic surgeon and professor at Nepal’s prestigious Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Dr. KC didn’t eat for twelve days. Citing malpractice and corruption in Nepal’s health and education systems, the doctor demanded change. His hunger protest urged government leaders to intervene and take action against dishonest office holders and reassess current policies and practice.

Thousands of medical professionals showed their allegiance, refusing to work and crippling hospitals throughout the country. Civil society members urged Dr. KC to show flexibility as many patients suffered. On the twelfth day of his hunger strike, a several-point agreement was drafted and signed.

I’ve never seen or heard anything like this. For someone to choose to starve themselves for days on end, to refuse food and risk their health in the name of a cause they believe in requires courage, bravery, and perhaps, questionable lucidity.

Regardless, it worked.

The government has formed a task force to monitor and assess existing medical programs. Current appointments will be evaluated and granted based on seniority and merit. Medical colleges that fail to meet standard requirements will be banned. Baseline fees for nursing, paramedic, and medicine courses will be set to eliminate the development of education as a business sector. Free government education has been promised. Policy will be written to ensure the availability of government medical college for all citizens.

While it’s clear a hunger protest seems a drastic means to achieve a desired outcome, it raises the issue of the level an individual must fight to combat corruption and demand good. It’s clear Dr. KC’s actions spurred response from higher authorities. But his act raises questions about one person’s life in context of the collective — and the sometimes drastic steps an individual must take to enact change.

Overthrowing long-standing institutions requires indeterminable patience, some measure of self-sacrifice and relentless hard work. I’m not suggesting we all go on hunger strikes, but I would like to see the equivalent of Dr. KC’s passion and determination more often in our world.

This is the fifth time the doctor has staged such a protest.