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DGHS chief Azad resigns amid controversies

  • Published at 02:17 pm July 21st, 2020
Prof Abul Kalam Azad
File photo of former Directorate General of Health Services chief Prof Abul Kalam Azad Dhaka Tribune

The development comes in the wake of several Covid-19 related controversies surrounding the state-run organization and different private hospitals

The chief of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), which is spearheading Bangladesh’s fight against Covid-19, has stepped down.

Prof Dr Md Abul Kalam Azad submitted his resignation letter to Public Administration Secretary Sheikh Yusuf Harun on Tuesday morning, Health Service Division Secretary Md Abdul Mannan confirmed.

Prof Azad’s move comes at a time when the DGHS and people running the institution came under spotlight over its poor handling of Covid-19 management.

Prof Azad, who was the first ever Grade 1 secretary in the country in this post, was criticized heavily in the wake of several Covid-19 related controversies surrounding the state-run organization and different private hospitals in Dhaka city.

Prof Azad assumed the post of DGHS director general (DG) on September 1, 2016. Later, his appointment was extended twice on contractual basis.

One of the key persons behind the digitalization of the healthcare system since 2009, he served the DGHS as its additional director general for administration before becoming the DG.

Prior to that, he was also the directorate’s DG of planning from 2011 till 2016.

Since late April, there have been rumours of Prof Azad being replaced. The rumours were put on hold as he tested positive for Covid-19 on May 12.

Sources from the DGHS said if the resignation is accepted by the government, Additional DG Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, Mugda Medical College Principal Prof Dr Titu Mia, or DG of Health Education Directorate Dr AHM Enayet Hussain are on the short list of candidates who could replace Prof Azad. 

The controversies

Prof Azad was first criticized for his poor management of the returnees from China, the place of origin of the global pandemic, on February 1.

When the first three cases of coronavirus in the country were reported on March 8, he was heavily criticized.

Later, his decision to stop taking questions from the media also generated criticism.

However, the biggest controversy he was involved in was his stance over the N95 scam. His directorate transferred several officials from Mudga General Hospital soon after the scam was revealed.

The decision of DGHS to replace IEDCR from the leading role of managing Covid-19 testing facilities in the country, and imposing fees for Covid-19 tests at the government facilities, also drew flak from different quarters.

Following the discovery of unprecedented corruption, irregularities and fraudulent activities in Covid-19 sample collection, testing, and treatment of patients by Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care, both of which were cleared by the DGHS, Prof Azad once again found himself in the middle of controversy.

His resignation has come at a time when the lack of coordination between the Health Ministry and the DGHS in efficiently dealing with the pandemic, which has killed over 2,700 people across the country till date, has come to light.

Letters, statements, and explanations

On June 11, responding to a ministry letter seeking explanation, the DGHS in a statement said it had signed the agreement with Regent Hospital following orders from senior officials at the Health Ministry.

It also claimed that the agreement was signed on condition that the hospital would renew its expired licence as soon as possible.

The next day, the ministry asked Prof Azad to explain in three days what they meant by orders from senior ministry officials, what was considered before the contract was signed, and what was done to ensure the conditions set in the agreement were met afterwards.

The back-to-back statement and letter from the DGHS and the ministry, respectively, came amid an uproar over Regent Hospital’s Uttara and Mirpur branches swindling thousands of unsuspecting patients out of millions of taka on the pretext of Covid-19 treatment.

On July 15, Prof Azad in his explanation told the ministry that the contract was signed following verbal orders from former Health Service Division secretary Md Asadul Islam.

That day, the current secretary, Mannan, told Dhaka Tribune: “As he [Prof Azad] claimed that the order was verbal, he has submitted documents as a part of his explanation, which we will have to scrutinize.

“It will take two to three days to draw a conclusion as to who was responsible. We will then brief the media.”

Since the Regent Hospital scam came to light, the law enforcement agencies have arrested multiple people involved in fraudulent activities, including the hospital’s owner Shahed Karim alias Mohammad Shahed. 

JKG Health Care Chairman Dr Sabrina Arif Chowdhury and her husband Ariful Chowdhury were also arrested for their alleged involvement in Covid-19 test scam.

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