02/06/2009, 00.00
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Two Indian-owned hospitals closed by Maoist union strike

by Kalpit Parajuli
The workers are asking for higher wages. The two clinics are providing only emergency services, and hundreds of people are without medical care. The Maoist prime minister is calling for an end to the "strike culture," which has caused crisis in the economy and in commercial relations with foreign partners.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Two Indian-owned hospitals are closing because of strikes by Maoist unions, which are asking for higher wages. Manipal Hospital in Pokhara and B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Science in Dharan have suspended their activities after their personnel walked out in protest against insufficient pay.

The protests, which began on February 2, are being led by the Nepal Health Workers Union (ANHWU) and the Non-Teaching Staff Union, both connected to the ruling Maoist party. The demonstrators are asking for contracts limited to 240 working days, and an increase in pay according to compensation guidelines published by the government. The administration of Manipal Hospital says that it is "providing more salary and facilities than other hospitals in the country. Even the sanitation workers get more pay than the government announced scale."

With 700 beds, Manipal Hospital is one of the largest university clinics in Nepal; the B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Science (BPKIHS), connected to the hospital of Pokhara, has 1500 beds. The two structures have a combined 1750 medical personnel.

The strikers are forcing both hospitals to provide only emergency care, on the part of Indian physicians, and are causing a crisis for the health system of the two districts of Kaski and Sunsari where the two hospitals operate: hundreds of patients are going without care.

ANHWU treasurer Shiva K.C. says, "We haven`t shut down the hospital; we are just off-duty with our demands." Devi Bahadur Rai, coordinator of the BPKIHS strikes in Dharan, says that the demonstrations will continue as long as "[hospital] management refuses to provide 10% of the basic salary for the provident fund."

The protests began two days after the appeal of the prime minister and president of the Maoist party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, "Prachanda," to end the "culture of the bandha," the word for strikes in Nepal. For a number of months, the Maoist unions have been straining the country's economy severely in all the fields that involve mostly foreign companies, especially Indian.

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