After being severely criticised by the media and all concerned for showing complete indifference to the health emergency caused by the pandemic, the parliamentary standing committee on health ministry has finally held a meeting. This is certainly a positive development given that the committee remained invisible and ineffective for the last nine months. It gave some important directives in the meeting—it directed the health ministry to ensure that no irregularities and corruption take place centring Covid-19 tests and treatment, and asked the ministry to coordinate with the civil aviation ministry and take measures to temporarily suspend air communication with the UK following the outbreak of a new strain of Covid-19 there. Most importantly, it gave specific directives about vaccine management.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country's health sector has been going through a severe crisis. Its incapacity to conduct adequate numbers of Covid-19 tests and treat patients has been highlighted in the media time and again. Corruption of some of the private healthcare facilities in conducting fake tests and providing false Covid-19 certificates made news headlines as well and earned a bad reputation for the country. There were also corruption and scandals regarding facemasks. Sadly, the parliamentary standing committee had nothing to say about all these, as it remained mostly invisible.
Now that the government has signed an agreement with the Serum Institute of India and Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited to buy three crore doses of the Oxford vaccine, different quarters have raised concerns over possible mismanagement and irregularities about the vaccination process. The committee's directives that the coronavirus vaccination programme should be under full control of the health ministry and that the vaccines should be given at government hospitals and upazila health complexes are commendable. While we appreciate these directives, we think the committee's work should not be limited to giving advice only; rather, it should develop a mechanism to oversee the entire vaccination process. It should monitor the health ministry's initiatives to preserve the Covid-19 vaccines and ensure that the doctors and nurses are properly trained to administer the vaccine in the right way, and at the proper temperature.