Institute of Public Health left in the lurch

Published: 00:00, Sep 01,2020


THE Institute of Public Health that has played a historically significant role in the health sector of Bangladesh has lately failed to make an impact due to lack of resources, administrative negligence and irregularities in its operation to the extent that the Directorate General of Drug Administration has revoked its license to produce essential medical products. The institute has been producing 12 types of IV saline, 21 types of reagents, blood bags, transfusion sets and 30 per cent sodium chloride for government hospitals until its license was revoked in mid-June for failing to meet the health safety standard in its plant. The license was cancelled on the ground that the plant is using out-dated equipment, housed in an abandoned building and operated by unskilled labour. The reasons behind the revocation are not trivial, but the fact that no steps are taken to resume the operation of the plant is deeply worrying. In the two months since the cancellation of its license, the institute has not been able to make a decision about its future course of action. Lack of initiative on part of the institute is particularly disconcerting because many of the problems were identified long before the revocation.

The institute has been limping along for over a decade now. In 2010, the institute stopped its production of tetanus, measles and diphtheria vaccines after samples of a batch of vaccines had failed quality tests abroad. In July 2018, the Anti-Corruption Commission raided the office of the institute to investigate the allegation that it has kept the production of IV fluids and other essential medical supplies suspended for more than six months to give private manufacturers a chance to profit. The institute officials acknowledged that the operation of the plant has rarely been smooth in the past decade. The public hospitals dependent on the plant for their essential medical supplies such as saline, infusion and transfusion sets, and blood bags have often been found struggling to attend patients and have been left with no option but to buy supplies at a higher price. The irregularities also prompted the government to import vaccine spending a huge sum of public money. The recent revocation therefore is a result of a long standing governmental negligence and corruption.

It is not acceptable that a state-run institute aimed at supplying IV fluid and other essential medical products free of cost has progressively lost its capacity and compelled the government to buy them at a higher price from private manufacturers. The ministry concerned must play an active role in bringing the institute back on its feet. In so doing the government must address the underlying problem of manpower shortage and financial crisis to modernise the plant. More importantly, it must take steps to resume the operation of the plant by addressing the immediate concerns of the drug administration.

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