Opposition lawmakers in parliament have demanded reforming the Health Ministry, citing corruption and mismanagement, while harshly criticizing the health minister over his role at the ministry.
While participating in the discussion over the supplementary budget of the 2020-21 fiscal year in the House on Monday, they alleged that Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque did not have any authority [control] over the ministry.
However, the health minister claimed that the ministry had shown success in curbing the transmission of coronavirus.
BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said the ministry had turned into a depot of corruption in the matter of purchases. The health minister had to clearly inform parliament on how he planned to reform the ministry.
He said the government should clearly say when it would resume vaccination. The vaccine import can be handed over to the private sector if necessary but one should be alert about preventing corruption.
The lawmaker also wanted to know why India had breached the vaccine supply contract with Bangladesh. “Over two million people are waiting to get a second dose. What will happen to their second dose, nobody knows.”
Rowshan Ara Mannan, reserved seat MP of Jatiya Party, said: “The Afzals and the Maleks of the health ministry are involved in graft and irregularities like a fairy tale. The intervention of the prime minister brought it under control a bit. But still they are not going to stop.”
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There are a lot of people like Malek and Afzal scattered in the health sector. A woman deputy secretary has homes in three countries, including Canada, she alleged.
Afzal Hossain, an accountant at the Medical Education Department of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), has accumulated a lot of wealth, including five houses in the capital, and one in Australia.
He reportedly amassed the wealth by misusing his power and taking bribes from candidates by ensuring jobs for them in different government and private offices.
On the other hand, Abdul Malek, a driver at the DGHS, became “Shadow DG” and because of his very close ties with a former DG of the DGHS, people in the health sector knew him as his “foster son.”
He also earned a lot of money through irregularities.
Rumeen Farhana, reserved seat MP of BNP, said the health sector was now paying the price for negligence. At least 5% of GDP should have been allocated to the sector. All countries in South Asia other than Bang;adesh have a much higher allocation for the health sector.
She said during the pandemic India allocated 136% more to the health sector than in the previous year. In Bangladesh it had increased by 12% only.
She said: “Only 25% of the ADP has been spent on the health sector in 10 months. Now they are seeking new allocations again. The health minister will have to answer as to why 75% remain unused.”
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Although the prime minister had asked to set up ICUs in every district, the lawmaker said only five of them were set up in the last one and a half years. Still, no ICU had been set up in 45 districts.
Jatiya Party lawmaker Kazi Firoz Rashid said the health minister was a gentleman but he had no control over what was happening at the health ministry.
What does the minister say?
In reply, Zahid Maleque said the health department was continuing to provide services even though healthcare was a comprehensive undertaking and Covid-19 had been in the country for a year.
He claimed that during the pandemic there was no scarcity of medicine and oxygen supply.
Comparing treatment qualities between Bangladesh and the US, the minister said the same treatment was being provided in two countries. “That is why the death rate is 1.5% in Bangladesh while it is 2.5% globally.”
The minister said Serum Institute of India (SII) had failed to continue supply of Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, as India went through a huge surge in infections. But Bangladesh managed to bring vaccines from China, Russia and the US.
He said the government would need to purchase more shots of vaccine and it would cost Tk3,000 per head. The government had spent Tk15,000 for every Covid patient’s treatment and Tk50,000 to provide ICU facilities for each patient.
He claimed that people’s lives were now almost normal as Bangladesh had successfully controlled the spike.