Covid-19 pandemic changed priorities for the sector, govt officials say
The ruling Awami League government has failed to keep several promises on the health sector that it outlined in its manifesto for the 2018 general election, speakers at a webinar have claimed.
Promises that were not kept include ensuring an adequate number of doctors, nurses and technologists in rural areas, as well as modernizing community clinics, they added.
Members of parliament at the webinar said the government would have made 80% progress towards keeping the promises by now if its efforts had not been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The webinar, titled “Assessing progress towards realizing the healthcare related commitments of Election 2018,” was jointly organized by Bangladesh Health Watch, Unnayan Samannay, and Brac James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) on Saturday.
Former governor of Bangladesh Bank and Chairperson of Unnayan Shamannay Dr Atiur Rahman said a total of Tk 16,148 crore had been directly allocated in the three-year annual development program (ADP), from FY2019-20 to FY2021-22, to fulfill election commitments on healthcare. This allocation amounted to 40% of the total development budget of the health sector in those three years.
However, the ADP is yet to receive a direct allocation to meet three out of 10 commitments, he added.
These three commitments are to provide free healthcare to everyone under the age of one and over the age of 65, online medical services from abroad and the modernization of all health facilities and community clinics.
“Allocations to achieve these goals may have been given from the revenue or the management budget, or there is a chance of securing the funds by taking away from other projects,” Dr Atiur Rahman said.
Member of parliament and former health minister AFM Ruhal Haque said there had been significant improvements in the health sector, but the emphasis was shifted to provision of medical services in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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“Community clinics are now providing 30-32 types of medicines. Even though we have been unable to address the shortage of doctors and nurses, we have trained paramedics and deployed them to upazila-level community clinics,” he added.
Doctors and nurses require significantly more training than paramedics, he further said.
Member of parliament Shameem Haider Patwary said: “There needs to be more medical science related people in the health sector. There is a huge lack of leadership in development, implementation and formulation of policies. Our healthcare is becoming city-life service based. There is no Critical Care Unit (CCU) in North Bangladesh. People are going to Dhaka and India for heart and kidney surgery.”
Recommendations from the speakers included increasing manpower in the health sector, hiring biochemistry graduates and arranging CCUs at all medical colleges, and hiring MBBS doctors at all community clinics.
Whip of the Jatiya Sangsad Abu Sayeed Al Mahmood Swapon held out the assurance that he would take up all these issues in parliament, with the health authorities, and with party high-ups.
He noted that the resilience of the country’s health sector in the face of the pandemic deserved recognition.