The government has failed to provide a special honorarium to healthcare professionals more than four months into its announcement of rewarding medical frontliners in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The finance ministry issued a circular on July 9, announcing special incentives equivalent to two months' basic salaries for all healthcare professionals in public hospitals dedicated for Covid-19 treatment. Tk 100 crore was earmarked to this end.
The honorarium will be additional to any other government allocation for them.
In the circular, the Directorate General of Health Services was asked to send a list of all such doctors, nurses and other healthcare staffers to the health ministry.
DGHS, however, has not been able to finalise this list till now.
"We are pressing [the health directorate] time and again. We have sent a letter three months ago to send us [the list] after scrutiny," Dr Enamul Haque, joint secretary (budget-1 and 2) of the health ministry, told The Daily Star.
Mohammad Shahadat Hossain, additional secretary (financial management and audit unit) of the health ministry, said they have received a list from other sources and forwarded it to the DGHS for scrutiny.
"We have asked the DGHS to make a final list. As soon as we receive the list, we will forward it to the finance ministry to allocate funds as per the list."
DGHS officials said the reason behind the delay is ambiguity over the definition of "directly deployed health workers", since there are many staffers working under Covid-19 control activities outside the dedicated hospitals.
Besides, all government healthcare staffers in other hospitals have been working despite risks during this Covid-19 situation, they said.
Dr Sheikh Mohammad Hasan Imam, director (administration) at DGHS, said, "After we asked for the definition, the ministry has directed us to prepare the list of health workers working in only the Covid-19 dedicated hospitals. It is not completed yet and we are working on it."
Sources at the health ministry said many health staffers were assigned to the Covid-19 dedicated hospitals in deputation.
As a result, the hospital where they actually worked did not include the names of those working at Covid-19 hospitals in the list. At the same time, dedicated hospitals did not enlist their names since they work on government payroll at different hospitals, these sources said.
Healthcare professionals' representatives, meanwhile, said such a delay was "unacceptable" and it "demoralised" the healthcare professionals fighting on the frontline.
"We are hopeless. Many employees of different government departments, such as those working in the administration cadre, have received the money. But ours remains a far cry," said Ehteshamul Haque Chowdhury Dulal, secretary general of Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA).
"We think this has been delayed because of bureaucratic tangles," he told The Daily Star.
Despite the prime minister directing the authorities concerned in April on the incentives, there seemed to be sluggishness on the part of the administration, Ehteshamul said.
SLOW PROGRESS ALSO IN INSURANCE COVERAGE LIST
Since the first three cases were reported on March 8, a total of 42 healthcare staffers have died of Covid-19 and 10,888 others have been infected across the country, according to the DGHS as of November 15.
According to the data, among the deceased healthcare workers are 10 doctors, five nurses, nine field staff, three medical technologists, two support staff, and 13 other staffers.
Among the infected health staffers were 2,302 doctors, 2,726 nurses, 887 field staff, 702 medical technologists, 1,376 support staff, and 1,895 other staffers.
In July, the government also announced that health professionals, other government officials, and law enforcers who are putting their lives at risk to fight Covid-19 will each get insurance coverage of up to Tk 10 lakh.
Finance ministry officials at that time said if any healthcare professional caught the infection, there would be health insurance coverage of Tk 5 lakh, Tk 7 lakh, or Tk 10 lakh, depending on rank, position, and grade. If anyone dies, the amount of the coverage will be five times higher.
Tk 750 crore was earmarked for this health and life insurance coverage.
A DGHS official said all doctors, nurses, and other staffers of the government's Covid-19 dedicated and non-dedicated hospitals and Covid-19 testing labs are included in the insurance coverage list.
As of now, only the family members of one deceased doctor were paid out under the coverage, confirmed a BMA official.
The physician, Md Moyeen Uddin of Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital, died of Covid-19 on April 15.
Asked about the status of the listing process, Dr Habibur Rahman, director of the management information system (MIS) unit of DGHS, on November 16 said, "We have received the names of all healthcare staffers -- doctors, nurses and others -- who were either infected or died. We will now forward it to the health ministry."
Later, on November 19, Dr Sheikh Mohammad Hasan Imam, director (administration) at DGHS, said, "I have received the list from the MIS today and will forward it to the ministry next week."