Increasing allocations for health care in the national budget will not suffice; there is a need to restructure the sector, speakers at a post-budget discussion said yesterday.
The issue of increasing capacity of the health sector should be addressed to ensure comprehensive and effective response to the ongoing pandemic, they said in the virtual discussion, organised by Bangladesh Health Watch (BHW) and Unnayan Shamannay.
In his keynote, Dr Atiur Rahman, former governor of Bangladesh Bank and chairperson of Unnayan Shamannay, said, "Policymakers have been rightly cautious about increasing budget allocations for health, considering the spending efficiency. Yet, they could have been a bit braver considering the current situation."
He said that the vaccination campaign for Covid-19 should be the first priority, rather than any other economic issue, for now.
"Because of the strong macroeconomic base Bangladesh is currently enjoying, the country need not worry too much about deficit financing, growth rate, etc. Rather the focus now should be on collecting adequate vaccines to inoculate 60-70 percent of the population within the next fiscal year," Dr Atiur said.
He opined that getting the vaccines in time will require smart diplomacy and support from international development partners.
Moderated by BHW Convener Dr Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, experts from different organisations spoke on the budget and problems in the health sector at the event.
"The share of health in the total budget has been hovering around 5 percent of the total budget, which needs to be significantly higher. More concerning is the fact that authorities concerned are not managing to efficiently spend the subpar allocations," Dr Mushtaque said.
He stressed that policymakers need to take special care to ensure address implementation efficiency.
Toufiq Maruf, president of Bangladesh Health Reporters' Forum, emphasised on implementation efficiency and called for restructuring the system.
Dr Ubaidur Rob, member of BHW and country director of Population Council, said, "Bangladesh will require approximately USD 1.5 billion to vaccinate citizens adequately. The government can easily opt to take a loan from the reserve without hurting the macroeconomy."
Discussants also emphasised having special allocations to confront the recent outbreaks of Covid-19 in border areas.
Shishir Moral, special correspondent of Prothom Alo, said the issue of International Health Regulations have been ignored, and policymakers should start thinking about interborder disease control related issues.