From Germany with love: Dr Arne Drews’ relentless support to Nepal’s public health facilities

The German doctor has been supporting Nepal through Nepalmed for the last 23 years. When he sees his initiative has helped to change the situation in Nepal’s hospitals, it fills his heart with immense joy.

Dr Arne receiving the Swasthya Khabar Health Award from Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Kathmandu on September 8, 2023.

Mahabir Paudyal

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: Imagine a person, who is not the native of this soil, but who cares about the country as much as you do. Imagine a person who sets aside some time out of his busy schedule to write books on Nepal, telling the stories of Nepali people to the international audience, and who uses the money that comes from the sale of those books to contribute funds for the improvement of infrastructure of Nepal’s health care facilities.  Imagine a person who makes it a point to make a trip to Nepal now and then to oversee the progress of his initiative. 

Dr Arne Drews, a pulmonologist, who lives in Grimma, about two hours drive on the motorway from Berlin, is such a person. Ever since he first set foot in Nepal 31 years ago, he has been contributing to the cause of Nepal’s public health sector, relentlessly and by exploring all possible avenues to contribute to that noble cause.

At 53, Dr Arne reminisces about his first journey to Nepal. It all started with a book. There was this volume Seven Years in Tibet written by Heinrich Harrer in his father’s bookshelf, the cover photo of which displayed the images of monks with big yellow hats. “I always dreamed of going to the Himalayas, the land of those monks, some day,” he told Nepal Live Today from Grimma, Germany.  

The journey started in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, and the Germans could travel to different parts of the world (Dr Arne’s house was in East Germany). Then he went to the UK, then to the US and then to Nepal. “I wanted to see the Himalayas and those monks. But the moment I landed in Kathmandu in 1992 I saw that there was much more to Nepal than the Himalayas and the monks. I saw that there was so much to discover.”

In Kathmandu, he went to Model Hospital in Bagbazar, where he saw the picture of what Nepal’s health facilities were like. The hospital lacked facilities and required human resources. “If a hospital at the heart of the capital city is like this, what may be the situations of the hospitals outside of the capital, especially those located in remote parts of the country?” Dr Arne thought and he made up his mind. He would do whatever he could to change the situation for the better in Nepali hospitals, especially those in rural areas of the country.  

So he founded Nepalmed Foundation, an NGO working to support Nepali partners in health care, in 2000.  The foundation has its chapters in different parts of the world such as Nepalmed UK andNepalmed Germany, wherefrom funds are collected, which are then given to the local NGO Nepalmed Nepal, which then uses it for supporting the hospitals in need.

Ever since Dr Arne has been putting half of his heart and minds to Nepal though he practices medicine in Germany.

The hospitals which Nepalmed supported have seen changes they never saw before. Take Amppipal Hospital, a government hospital, in Gorkha district. The budget of this hospital is mainly composed of income from treatment and donations from Nepalmed. With the support of Nepalmed several infrastructure projects have been implemented. Roads have been built to connect the hospital with the adjoining villages as a result of which patients from different parts of the district can travel to the hospital with ease and receive treatment. “Otherwise, the patients would have to be carried on doko. Some people would probably not be able to make it to the hospital in the first place,” Dr Arne explained.  

One of the most notable achievements made through the initiative of Dr Arne’s Nepalmed is the health insurance scheme. Initially, it was not easy to convince people to enroll in a governmental  health insurance scheme. So Nepalmed paid for the premiums for the staff of Amppipal Hospital for the first year. The beneficiaries spread the message. Now people have understood how important it is and they are themselves enrolling in the insurance program. “Now more than 90 percent of patients in Amppipal Hospital OPD have health insurance. This is a remarkable achievement for Nepal,” he said. “We first supported them. Now they have understood the importance of health insurance. They have continued it on their own.” 

Dr Arne handing over the oxygen production plant in Amppipal Hospital in  2022.

Dr Arne thinks that health insurance is one of the keys to ensuring the access to health for the poor in Nepal. “I have the hope that this insurance coverage in Gorkha will spread to other districts. Insurance cuts down your out of pocket expenditure for health care, thus contributing to reducing poverty and ensuring that nobody has to suffer for being unable to pay for health care,” he said. “I think health insurance can solve several of the problems.” 

Infrastructure is only one among other areas to which Nepalmed extends its support. Nepalmed provides funds to the hospitals to purchase urgently needed equipment such as oxygen production plants, surgical instruments, x-ray, ct scanner, ultrasound and others. “With the funds collected from various parts of the world Nepalmed helps to improve the environmental footprint of health facilities like installing water filters, solar power and warm water, and waste incinerators. We also work to improve medical quality like creating entire new health posts or new hospital wards and purchasing ambulance services for better pre-hospital care,” Dr Arne said. “We support the Nepali colleagues to improve the facilities. We discuss ideas and help to make them come true.”   

Nepalmed also sends specialists to Nepali hospitals for training courses.  For example, neurologists, pediatricians and dentists have shared their knowledge with their colleagues at Kirtipur Hospital since 2012. Nepalmed also initiates medical courses and conferences. Dr Arne is proud founding member of the Nepalese Respiratory Society and spoke at its 1st International conference in Kathmandu in April 2023. In the last 15 years, he gave spirometry courses in several provinces from Accham to Dharan. 

Health posts in Solukhumbu and Okhaldhunga where Nepalmed has helped in setting up pharmacies, making buildings, buying equipment, setting up water filter facilities, are other beneficiaries. Apart from that, the foundation has also set up girls and boys toilets in schools as well as school kitchens in the region. 

Dr Arne is a health professional but he is a good writer too. In 2017, he wrote his first Nepal detective story entitled Himalaya Gold: A Nepal Detective Story. Then came Monsoonfollowed by Demons. Three of these books have also been published in Nepali language. Eight volumes of the detective story series, all related to Nepal, have been published in German language already. “The purpose of the publication is to contribute to the health sector of Nepal through charity,” Dr Arne said. “The money coming from the sales goes to Nepalmed, which runs different types of projects in remote areas of Nepal to improve the health care facilities,” Dr Arne further added. “It is in a way a fund writing. I write those stories to generate funds from Germany and then to contribute to Nepalmed.”

The stories of those books are true stories related to Nepal. Monsoon, for example, is about Kamalaris in Tarai districts being sold to the landowners. “It’s always true stories that happen in Nepal. They tell the real stories to the foreign visitors and introduce Nepal to the wider world.” 

Dr Arne has been supporting Nepal through Nepalmed for the last 23 years and when he sees his initiative has helped to change the situation in Nepal’s hospitals it gives him immense joy. “I do not speak Nepali and cannot express my joy to the people in Nepal. And they often cannot speak English and cannot say to me what they want to say. But in our silent communication I express my humble pleasure to be able to help them out in whatever little way I can and they show their immense love, respect and gratitude for me,” Dr Arne said.  “This is the satisfaction for which you have no other substitute in the world.” 

[Dr Arne Drews was honored by Nepal Live Group with the 11th Swasthya Khabar Health Award for his contribution to Nepal’s Health Sector on September 8, 2023.]