Health Minister Zahid Maleque today came under fire from opposition BNP and Jatiya Party MPs in parliament due to the ministry's failure to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure treatment and testing facilities for people infected with the coronavirus.
A JP lawmaker participating in the discussion on the cut motion regarding the Tk 22,883.86 crore demand for grant in favour of the Health Services Division demanded that the prime minister appoints former agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury as health minister and gives Zahid Maleque responsibility of any other ministry.
Refuting all allegations, the health minister, however, said his ministry has taken proper measures so far to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, stressing that the death rate in Bangladesh is very low compared to many other countries.
He also claimed doctors and a large number of health-staff were infected with Covid-19 at the primary stage as many of them didn't know how to wear or take off PPEs.
Participating in the discussion on the cut motion, JP MP Pir Fazlur Rahman said the situation of the health ministry is appalling.
"The people of my constituency asked me to place their desire before the Prime Minister so that she would remove the health minister -- entrusting him with another responsibility -- and bring Matia Chowdhury to the post," he said.
Another Jatiya Party MP, Mujibul Haque Chunnu, alleged that the Health Ministry did not take any initial effective measures to tackle the coronavirus.
"If they took effective measures, the corona situation would not turn so critical in the country," he said.
"Almost all doctors and nurses in my two upazilas got infected with Covid-19 as sub-standard PPEs and other health and safety equipment were given to them," he said.
Lambasting the director of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Dr Abul Klam Azad, another JP MP, questioned how a person of his (health minister's) stature had commented that Bangladesh will not be affected by Covid-19 due to high temperature in our country.
"And the same person now commented the virus infection may continue for two to three years. I think we should look into this matter -- what study they have gone through and how they can talk like that."
Chunnu demanded that the prime minister should give directives so that all MPs, ministers and government officials will mandatorily take treatment at public hospitals instead of Combined Military Hospitals.
Echoing Chunnu, JP MP Rowshan Ara Mannan said the health minister must come up with a statement explaining why there was a scarcity of testing kits at the primary stage, causing the deaths of many people, and why so many people were infected due to low standard of health and safety gear.
BNP MP Harunur Rashid said: "We will have to overhaul our entire health system. We will have to address the manpower crisis in this sector."
Harun alleged that there is no coordination between the health ministry and the DGHS. He also suggested reforming those.
Harun also claimed that the infection rate of Covid-19 in Bangladesh is the highest in the world as Bangladesh is carrying out only a small number of tests every day.
In reply to the volley of criticism, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "There are 14,000 beds dedicated for Covid-19 patients in different hospitals and as of today, 60 percent of them are occupied beds and 40 percent of the beds remain vacant."
He also denied the allegations that patients are not getting treatment in any hospital in Bangladesh.
The minister said, initially there was an outcry for ventilators, but now it seems that there is no need for ventilators.
"We have some 400 ventilators. But even 50 ventilators were not used," he said, adding that most of the patients that went under ventilator support had died.
The health minister said high flow oxygen is essential for Covid-19 patients. So, the government has taken the initiative of arranging 1,000 high flow oxygen (or central oxygen lines) and 10,000 new oxygen cylinders.
Talking about the allegation of irregularities in the hotel and food costs of doctors and health workers of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Zahid Maleque said the allegation was not correct as some 3,700 persons stayed in 50 hotels for a month and Tk 500 was given as the food cost for three meals – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each room rent was Tk 1,100 per day.
Noting that the costs were not so high, he said, "The cost of food that was mentioned (in the allegations) was not correct."
Zahid Maleque said, at present, there are no allegations the standard of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is low-quality. The government has already sent 30 lakh PPEs to different hospitals, he said.
Every private hospital is providing medical treatment to patients, though their service charges are high to some extent, he added.
"The government will fix the service charges of the private medical hospitals," he claimed.