Healthcare Information and Global Health Plans for Foreign Nationals Living in Nepal
Landlocked between China and India, Nepal is famous as the land of the majestic Himalayas and natural beauty. Home to eight of the ten highest mountains on Earth, including Mount Everest, this Himalayan nation has witnessed many tourists and backpackers travel from across the world to spend time in its magnificent mountains. Its many languages, cultures, and religions attract visitors from all over the globe. But the remote nature of this mountainous country can make accessing healthcare difficult for locals, global nomads and expatriates alike.
But there are certain areas that are a cause for concern for those moving or traveling to Nepal — the Nepalese healthcare system, health threats, healthcare for expats, and their medical insurance system. Knowing a little about these beforehand can help make your stay safe and enjoyable in Nepal. Even digital nomads working in Nepal will need global health coverage.
Overview of Healthcare in Nepal
Nepal is home to the biggest tourist and expatriate magnet — Mt Everest. From mountaineers, global nomads, trekkers to backpackers, Nepal draws all kinds of travelers. It’s ideal for outdoor activities like mountain climbing, trekking, and whitewater rafting. But these same activities can also present health and safety issues — altitude sickness (HAPE, HACE), gastrointestinal ailments, or even physical injuries. These health hazards, coupled with difficult terrain and the lack of adequate airline services or even roadways, make the delivery of healthcare facilities a huge challenge, though altitude sickness can be prevented by avoiding rapid ascents.
The medical care system of Nepal consists of a wide network of health facilities as well as community workers and volunteers. Public healthcare facilities in the country, except in cities, are poorly equipped and quite limited according to international standards. Although public healthcare facilities have improved in recent years, the lack of funding in rural areas is a big concern. Most of the funding is routed to the medical facilities in large urban areas.
Healthcare services in Nepal are provided by both public and private sectors, but most are located in the capital city of Kathmandu. Some private Western hospitals do provide good medical services, but most other healthcare providers lack basic facilities and sanitation standards. Medical facilities that exist in Kathmandu can be trusted for basic medical diagnosis and treatment. While private clinics in Kathmandu do provide treatment, their doctors and nurses are not trained well enough to be able to handle emergency situations.
Along with the public sector, the private sector is on the path of growth too. Services in the private sector are perceived to be speedier and more accessible as compared to those offered in the public healthcare system. Two popular private healthcare facilities are the Nepal International Clinic and CIWEC Clinic. Traditional practitioners dominate the private healthcare sector in rural areas of Nepal. Most of the private healthcare providers exist in urban areas. The rural hills are serviced majorly by public providers.
How the Nepalese Healthcare System Works for Expats
Most medical facilities have insufficient resources to tackle emergency situations. It makes sense for expats and other visitors to purchase emergency evacuation insurance and a standard health insurance cover before they plan to sign up for any adventure activity in Nepal’s far-flung areas. Expats suffering from illnesses and injuries during mountaineering or trekking activities may require a helicopter for the rescue. The cost for such rescues, especially from remote areas, is hefty. Having an insurance cover to back it makes for a prudent decision.
Credit cards are accepted only in some clinics and hospitals in Kathmandu. The rest may only accept cash. CIWEC is one medical facility where credit cards are accepted, and the center also is used to dealing with insurance claims. It is advisable to check with your medical insurance company regarding the procedure of claims prior to traveling to Nepal. They will confirm whether you need to buy a separate policy for Nepal or whether your existing medical insurance policy covers medical and emergency costs. If possible, expats should try and purchase a plan that supports upfront payment rather than opt for one that has them paying out of their pocket and submit claims later.
Key Points on Accessing Medical Care in Nepal:
Foreigners in Nepal should realize that basic care is available and some surgical procedures can be performed in Kathmandu and Pokhara, but outside these cities health care may be non-existent. In fact, it is likely that a serious illness or emergency will require medical evacuation out of the country.
- Equipment is limited and can be outdated.
- Pharmacies may not be reliable, particularly outside Kathmandu.
- Medical staff training may be unreliable
- Hospital and clinic hygiene standards are unreliable
- Blood transfusions are not considered safe.
Here is a sampling of four medical clinics in Nepal:
Kathmandu: CIWEC Clinic
Address: Kapurdhara Marg, Kathmandu
Tel: +977 (1) 442 4111; 442 4242; 443 5232
Kathmandu: Norvic International Hospital
Address: Thapathali, Kathmandu
Tel: +977 (1) 425 8554
Pokhara: CIWEC Clinic
Address: Mansarovar Path, Lakeside, Pokhara
Tel: +977 (61) 463 082; 467 053
Pokhara: Western Regional Hospital
Address: Ranipauwa road, Pokhara
Tel: +977 (61) 520 067
Pharmacies and Emergency Services in Nepal
Most private healthcare facilities provide 24/7 emergency and trauma services. These facilities have consultant doctors as well as resident doctors available on call, with ER medical officers working in shifts round the clock. In some facilities, the operation theater also functions 24/7 along with some diagnostic services. These private facilities have doctors who are fluent in English.
Some private pharmacies in Nepal, especially those in the cities, not only provide drugs, but also diagnostic services to their patients. In Kathmandu, there are several pharmacies in and around the Thamel market that have all sorts of antibiotics available with them.
Best Private International Medical Insurance for Expats
For expatriates, the public health insurance scheme is simply not a good option. They need to obtain international medical coverage that provides reimbursement for both medical costs as well as evacuation expenses. An insurance policy that provides for medical expenses through a large network of hospitals is recommended. Many expats are also advised to obtain global life and disability insurance coverage. Some of the different insurance covers that expats need to consider are International Health Insurance, Expat Life and Disability Insurance, Travel Insurance, Evacuation Coverage, and Group Expat Insurance Plans.