Mask Controversy

Bangladesh govt yet to initiate probe into face mask scam

Emran Hossain | Published: 23:25, Apr 21,2020 | Updated: 22:39, Apr 22,2020


Bangladesh government seems indifferent to run an investigation into the supply of fake N95 masks to government hospitals by a Bangladeshi company though physician leaders and experts concerned think that the matter calls for a thorough investigation.

They were surprised at such indifference and wondered how the packets of a product produced in and marketed from the USA used by a Bangladeshi company.

They argued that the packets with N95 label were obviously printed in Bangladesh and saw an ill motive behind it.

Meanwhile, the company that supplied the masks, the JMI group, said by way of an explanation that it was mistake they made during packaging.  

‘It should be investigated thoroughly,’ said BMA secretary general Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury.

‘It will not make any sense unless we get an answer to the question from where the packets of N95 masks came,’ he said.

Transparency International Bangladesh and other concerned professionals also joined the BMA leaders in raising calls for investigating the source of the N95 mask packets.

Recently, Central Medical Stores Depot supplied to government hospitals personal protective equipment that included packets of masks reading N95 masks.

Upon opening the packets government physicians found ordinary face masks.

The CMSD and its vendor JMI in separate newspaper advertisements explained that ordinary face masks were wrongly packaged in N95 packets and it was a packaging mistake.

The CMSD in its newspaper advertisement said that reports of the involvement of a collaborative scam between the health minister, his son, health secretary and health services director general behind the supply of the fake N95 masks were baseless and politically motivated.

The JMI explained in newspaper advertisements that it supplied 20,600 masks mistakenly packed in N95 packets.

‘This is too important a mismatch to be wished away as a mistaken packaging or any other human error,’ said Iftekhar.

‘It is very likely to be an example of profiteering by taking advantage of the Corona-Covid-19 national crisis, he said.

‘Such corruption often takes place through collusions between the vendors and a section of officials and others involved in the decision-making process,’ said Iftekhar.

On March 30, Mugda Medical College Hospital received 300 pieces of the fake N95 masks from CMSD.On April 1, the hospital decided to write to two government offices to confirm their quality.

One of the offices, the IEDCR replied it was not the write authority to pass an opinion on it while the health services never made a reply.

Khulna Medical College Hospital and Kushtia General Hospital also raised questions over the supply of the fake N95 masks.

‘The explanation given by the government gives rise to more questions than it answers,’ said ruling AL MP Saber Hossain Chowdhury, who is also the chairman of the management committee of Mugda Medical College Hospital.

Had the CMSD ordered ordinary face masks in the first place how come they accepted supplies in packets describing its contents as N95 masks, argued Saber.

It did not look like mistake when we noticed the CMSD itself identified the ordinary face masks as N95 ones in the inventories sent along supplies allocated for our hospital, he said.

The CMSD recalled 7,000 masks distributed among government hospitals in the first place in the wake of the growing outrage over the fake N95 masks.

‘Healthcare workers are our frontline fighters against the new coronavirus. It is our duty to make sure that they get quality protective gears,’ said BMA president Mostafa Jalal Mohiuddin.

He demanded that the matter be thoroughly investigated.

The government, meanwhile, had to go for speedy sourcing of equipment after the detection of the first coronavirus positive case on March 8.

It started sourcing personal protective equipment locally from the 2nd week of the month amid growing demands for providing healthcare workers with PPE.

The CMSD director Brigadier General Md Shahid Ullah said that they went for a kind of blind purchase for they were in urgent need of masks to be provided to 4,000 hospitals across Bangladesh in a matter of week.

The CMSD issued a show cause notice and the JMI group is yet to respond it.

Health services additional director general Nasima Sultana said that she did not have a look at the JMI Group reply yet and could not speak of any concrete plan of actions to be taken against them.

Over 336 healthcare providers have reportedly been infected with coronavirus across Bangladesh and at least one physician treating patients without PPE died.

Different countries, especially those among badly affected European nations, have warned that frauds were selling fake medical equipment for quick profit during the coronavirus crisis.

Health secretary Asadul Islam said that the press should have been happy with the explanation provided by the authorities involved.

‘You should stop making a fuss out of it,’ Asadul said addressing journalists in general.

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