“Nepal’s health indicators are embarrassing.” Indira Panta names poverty, malnutrition, ignorance, deep-rooted traditional beliefs, rampant urbanization and deteriorating environmental conditions as negative factors affecting the health of the Nepalese people. “Government efforts alone are not enough to combat the situation,” she says.

The Nepal Health Care Co-operative Ltd. (NEHCO) was founded in March 2006 in an attempt to improve the public health of a country where 1 in every 21 children dies before their first birthday, and 1 in 16 dies before the age of 5. Health services are inaccessible to the poor and even many middle class Nepalese. The founding members – five doctors and five nurses, plus medical professionals, businesspeople and social workers – wanted to provide health services to marginalized groups and to run health science education programs to help lift the standard of medical training in the country. The cooperative’s mission, says Panta, who is the director of the governing board, is “to promote quality health services through equity in service delivery, social inclusion in health programme planning and health service utilization and production of competent human resources, including for marginalized groups and remote areas of Nepal.”

One of NEHCO’s first actions was to establish the 100-bed Manmohan Memorial Community Hospital in Thamel, Kathmandu, which opened in 2006 with about 400 founder shareholders. The Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences was founded to conduct academic health programs in nursing, pharmacy, public health and medical laboratory technology, and the Manmohan Memorial Medical College will be running from 2012, with MBBS programs to train doctors. The construction of a 900-bed teaching hospital is currently underway in Swoyambhu, Kathmandu.

The cooperative currently has over 2,000 members and 270 employees, and is now the country’s largest cooperative health service and health professional education provider. “We are providing free and special health services for senior citizens for the first time,” says Panta. “Five regional community hospitals are being established in each of the five development regions of the country, a unique effort in health service sector. The first cooperative medical college is being established and we are planning to found the country’s first cooperative university.”