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In memoriam: Who was James Simons? Why will Nepal miss him?

The man who founded Nick Simons Institute is no more. Here are reasons for Nepal to be grateful to the American philanthropist.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

Kathmandu: Billionaire investor James Simons, who contributed to improving Nepal’s rural healthcare system, died on Friday.

Simons was the mathematician and Cold War code-breaker who founded one of the world’s most prominent and profitable hedge funds, Renaissance Technologies. He was a prominent philanthropist, giving away billions of dollars during his lifetime to support medical and science research, Reuters reported.

In 1994, Simons and his wife, Marilyn, established the Simons Foundation, which supports scientists and organizations worldwide in advancing the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences, according to Reuters.

In Nepal, James Simons is remembered for setting up Nick Simons Institute (NSI) which has been supporting the country to improve its rural healthcare system since it was founded in 2006.

According to Nick Simons Institute, this is how it started. In 2002, Nick Simons, James Simons’ son, came to work in Nepal. He stayed here for nine months and returned to New York but his fondness for Nepal remained. He is said to have told his mother that he could be spending his life in Nepal. But his dream to return to Nepal did not materialize.

In summer of 2003, Nick drowned while swimming in Bali. Two months after his death, while still in grief, his parents, sister, and some friends came to Nepal hoping to create some tangible goodness in a place they knew almost nothing about. They first funded a Maternity Ward for Patan Hospital. Nick’s parents Jim and Marilyn came back to Nepal twice every year. They eventually traveled to some of the remotest parts of the country, visiting eight hospitals that would become partners of the emerging Nick Simons Institute. They said, “Nepal is a gift that Nick gave us, and we have met so many wonderful people here whom otherwise we never would have known.”

NSI was established in 2006 in the memory of Nick Simons, a young man from America who worked in Nepal, grew to love the country, and died in 2003.

Over the years, NSI, the institution James Simons founded in memory of his son, has been providing various training and executing various programs in different hospitals across the country. It is providing skills based clinical training and non-clinical training to improve the competency of healthcare workers by enhancing their existing knowledge and developing new skills in coordination with the National Health Training Center (NHTC) and the Provincial Health Training Centers (PHTC). The programs it launches include Advanced Skilled Birth Attendants (ASBA), Anesthesia Assistant Course (AAC), Diploma in Biomedical Equipment Engineering (DBEE), Essential Critical Care Training (ECCT), Primary Emergency Care (PEC), Skilled Birth Attendants (SBA), Operating Theatre Technique and Management (OTTM), among others.

According to NSI’s annual report (2022-23), trainings and courses are provided from AMDA Hospital, Damak, Bayalpata Hospital, Lamjung Hospital, Mechi Hospital, Okhaldhunga Community Hospital, Provincial Hospital, Siraha, Province Hospital, Surkhet, Seti Provincial Hospital and United Mission Hospital, Tansen, AMDA Hospital, Damak, Bhaktapur Hospital, Bharatpur Hospital, Lamjung Hospital, Mahakali Provincial Hospital, among other institutions.

According to the annual report, the NSI provided a total of Rs 17,192,309.00 in living support. NSI provided essential equipment to the NSI supported government hospitals. The total amount of equipment supplied amounted to NPR. 388,340,83.31.  According to the report, NIS spent over six billion rupees for different programs in 2022023. It spent Rs 142,358,504 for training, Rs 387,480,138 for curative service support program, Rs 73,042,773  for hospital strengthening program and Rs 20,204,557 on research, advocacy and monitoring programs in various health facilities from the local to provincial to federal levels.

Those familiar with the contributions of James Simons have expressed grief over his passing. Bishow Parajuli wrote on X “Salute to him for his work in Nepal & beyond. Jim will be missed by many.” “Rich tributes to the departed soul! Nepal has lost a good friend,” Jainendra Jeevan rejoined. “We miss him very much, but his fond memories will be with us forever,” wrote Rita Thapa.