Govt must punish errant officials in TB control fund theft

Published: 00:05, Mar 28,2018 | Updated: 23:55, Mar 27,2018

 
 

A PORTION of the money, a small amount though, that the Geneva-based Global Fund gave to the National Tuberculosis Control Programme of Bangladesh coming to have been embezzled is unpalatable. A report of the Global Fund in January says that the health ministry officials misappropriated at least Tk 9.2 million out of 2.64 billion that the organisation gave to the National Tuberculosis Control Programme. The Global Fund report says that an unspecified number of officials working on the tuberculosis control programme pocketed the money by submitting false documents related to training-related expenses. An investigation done in Bangladesh by the Global Fund’s Office of the Inspector General in 2016 shows that tenders floated for the procurement of medical equipment worth about Tk 25 million had bidders that were non-existent. The investigation was triggered by audit findings in 2011 which made the Global Fund Secretariat cut down on the allocation for Bangladesh in 2014–2016. The incidents of misappropriation took place between July 2015 and September 2016 in gross violation of the government’s procurement rules and protocols. A further audit in 2017 notes that financial controls of the National Tuberculosis Control Programme has not improved since the 2011 audit.
Bangladesh, which is said to have a tuberculosis prevalence rate of 434 per 1,00,000 people, lags behind in tuberculosis control in that it ranks the sixth worldwide in the absolute number of tuberculosis cases while it is among the 22 high tuberculosis-burden countries and among the 30 high multi-drug resistant tuberculosis-burden countries. With the management of the disease remaining poor, there are other issues that the government has left ignored. The diagnosis rate of tuberculosis is far from what it should be. A large number of tuberculosis patients becoming multi-drug resistant primarily because of irregular medication also paints a bleak picture. Childhood tuberculosis still remains a cause of concern. As statistics show, 10,062 child tuberculosis patients account for 4.32 per cent of the country’s total tuberculosis patients. While the age of the child tuberculosis patients vary within the range of 0 and 14 years, the disease is not diagnosed in at least 10 per cent of the child tuberculosis patients. In a situation like this, while Bangladesh should put in more efforts to improve the screening of the population for the disease, despite services being offered free in hospitals at the upazila and district level and even in clinics run by no-governmental organisations, such misappropriation of fund is unacceptable.
The Global Fund report holds the then tuberculosis control programme line director and manager for procurements responsible for the irregularities as they endorsed all the statements of expenditures. The government has already instituted an investigation committee. Yet it seems to remain complacent after transferring a statistical officer, a photocopy machine operator, personal secretary to the line director and another member on the staff. The government must hold to account the people who are responsible for the misappropriation so that the tuberculosis control programme does not come to be affected.

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