THE criticism of the health ministry by more than one lawmaker in the parliament on Thursday for corruption, irregularities and mismanagement comes as a pointer to what the public health sector has degraded to. While a member of parliament from the Bikalpa Dhaka Bangladesh party, taking part in the general discussion on the national budget proposed for the 2021–2022 financial year, said that people witnessed corruption, irregularities and mismanagement in the health sector, another member of parliament from the Bangladesh Workers’ Party said that massive corruption had taken place in the health sector procurement. While the Bikalpa Dhaka lawmaker said that the ministry had failed to spend the allocation because of its poor skills and capacity, the Workers’ Party lawmaker said that the budgetary allocation for the health sector was not adequate in view of what it needs, especially, to fight the outbreak of Covid-19. The health sector, which almost wobbled during the dengue outbreak in 2019, laid bare its inadequacies during the Covid outbreak, which, beginning in early 2020, has persisted with no end sight. Even in such hard times, the health sector has continued to be mired in allegations of corruption and irregularities that have almost eroded public trust in the sector.
While the health sector has gone through a number of incidents, big or small, of mismanagement, corruption and irregularities in the Covid time, the sector, in effect, has been mired in controversies for the inefficiency and ineptitude that have resulted in poor or almost no health governance for years. The health ministry has come to be criticised for having poor or no oversight on healthcare providers in the private sector. It has failed to fix the issues of pricing of medicines, medical equipment and diagnostic test costs. It has failed to shore up registration and licensing issues of hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres in the private sector; the issue made repeated headlines in August 2020. The ministry has failed to save people from dishing out a disproportionate percentage of money out of their pocket for medical expenses. It has also faced criticism for allegations of corruption in the procurement for public medical colleges and hospitals. While a series of such scams have hit the health sector, the inquiries and investigations of corruption and irregularities, which took place mainly in the Covid times, that the Anti-Corruption Commission set up after such incidents had come to light are reported to have been put on hold because, as New Age reported in May, commission officials are left with instructions to go slow.
The government must, in such a situation, heed the criticism that lawmakers and health experts come up with and learn from the mistakes that have let the health sector down over the years. The government must put in efforts with the required political will to rid the health sector, and the health ministry perhaps, of corruption, irregularities and mismanagement. Public health remains an important factor in national development. All such issues left ignored could leave the health sector severely hamstrung for the government to set it right.
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