‘Allocation inadequate for overcoming corona crisis’

Mohammad Al Amin

5 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The government should increase budgetary allocation for the health sector to face the challenges of ensuring proper healthcare for country’s people as the coronavirus pandemic has revealed a ‘poor’ healthcare capacity in the country, experts said.

They also said the government also has to properly utilize the resources and free the health sector from corruption to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) both in the rural and urban areas.

 “There is no change in the proposed budget for country’s health sector. Though only Tk 3,486 crore or 10.65 per cent than last year’s health budget has been increased in the proposed health budget for fiscal year 2021-22, there is no new vision, no new item and no additional allocation for changing structure of the health sector,” said Professor Dr. Syed Abdul Hamid, former director of Institute of Health Economics (IHE) of Dhaka University.

Appreciating the allocation of Tk 100 billion as a lump sum to face COVID-19 challenges and allocation of Tk 1 billion for research of health sector development, he said proper utilization of the bulk amount of the health budget will have to be ensured.

“After all, a master plan is essential for bringing structural change in the country’s health sector in a bid to ensure proper health services for the people. To this end, the government has made budget to implement short-term, mid-term and long-term projects of the health sector,” Abdul Hamid added.

As Bangladesh is battling the coronavirus pandemic, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Thursday proposed allocation of Tk 32,731 crore for the health sector for 2021-22 fiscal year.

The allocation for the Health Services Division, Health Education and Family Welfare Division is up by Tk 3,486 crore or 10.65 per cent than last year’s Tk 29,245 crore.

The proposed allocation for the fiscal year 2021-22 is 5.42 per cent of the total budget outlay while 5.84 per cent of this year's revised budget and only 0.95 per cent of GDP.

The finance minister proposed to allocate Tk 10,000 crore in the next fiscal year to meet the emergency requirements to respond to the pandemic and a Tk 100-crore Integrated Health-Science Research and Development Fund to finance the activities for the development of research on health sector.

With the Covid-19 pandemic posing the biggest challenge to public health in this generation, spending more on healthcare has been the call from economists and medical experts. The share of health budget remains below one per cent of the GDP-- only 0.92 percent, lowest compared to its peers in South Asia. The country's public spending on healthcare has been hovering around 1 per cent of the GDP for many years, although the WHO recommends it to be at least 5 percent.

Bangladesh's healthcare system has already been struggling with the increasing burden of diseases, low coverage and an inadequate national budget. As the size of the budget increased every year, the allocation for the health sector rose too. But in terms of the percentage of the total budget, it remained around 5 per cent over the years.

“There is a increase in the proposed health budget of the country for the fiscal year 2021-22 but it didn’t reflect people’s expectations as the health sector was not focused in the national budget during this Covid-19 pandemic,” Professor Dr Kanak Kanti Barua, former Vice Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) told the Daily Sun. 

He said though additional Tk, 10,000 crore has been proposed for facing emegecny of the Covid-19 and Tk 100 crore for research in health sector but the total health budget is not adequate to face the challenges of the country’s health sector.

Dr Ehteshamul Haque Chowdhury, secretary-general of Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), told the Daily Sun that “the proposed health budget is not enough to cater to the needs of the health sector. The allocation didn’t increase in proportion with the size of the national budget.”

Referring to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for allocating a minimum 5 per cent of the GDP for the health sector, he said sadly the country’s health is only 5.42 per cent for fiscal 2021-22, which is not ideal to ensure proper health services for huge people.

Ehteshamul Haque Chowdhury said setting up more medical colleges and hospitals and necessary logistics support to run the hospitals like medical equipment, skilled manpower and medicine was a must, but this requires a significant increase in the budgetary allocation.

He also emphasized on making the health sector free from corruption and ensuring proper utilization of the allocated funds for the health sector.

Prof Dr Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of the National Committee on Health Rights Movement told the Daily Sun “There is nothing new in the proposed health budget. The budget is not also adequate to ensure proper health care services for people. There is no possibility of improving the health services by the proposed health budget.”