Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday came under fire in parliament from opposition BNP and Jatiya Party MPs due to his ministry's alleged failure to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure treatment and testing facilities to the coronavirus infected people.
Participating in a cut-motion discussion on the Health Services Division's demand of Tk 22,883.86 crore from the budget allocation, a JP lawmaker even demanded that the prime minister replace Zahid Maleque with former agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury.
Refuting all allegations, the health minister said his ministry had taken proper measures to tackle the Covid-19 and that was the reason for lower death rate in Bangladesh compared to many other countries.
He also claimed that many doctors and health staffers got infected with Covid-19 at the primary stage as "they didn't know how to wear and take off PPEs".
Participating in the discussion, JP MP Pir Fazlur Rahman said the health ministry was in a grave situation.
"The people of my constituency asked me to place it [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 initially take any effective measures to tackle the coronavirus.
"Almost all doctors and nurses in my two upazilas got infected with Covid-19 as sub-standard PPEs and other health safety items were given to them," he said.
Lambasting the director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Abul Kalam Azad, the JP MP asked how a person of his stature could comment that Bangladesh would not be affected by Covid-19 due to the high temperature.
"And the same person is now saying the virus infection may continue for two to three years," Chunnu said, adding that the government should investigate what study he had gone through before making such comments.
He demanded that the prime minister make it mandatory for all MPs, ministers and government officials to receive 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 clarification on why there was a scarcity of testing kits at the primary stage.
BNP MP Harunur Rashid during his speech emphasised on addressing the manpower crisis in the sector.
He alleged that there was no coordination between the health ministry and the DGHS. He also suggested the institutions be reformed.
In reply to a volley of criticisms, the minister said there were 14,000 beds dedicated to treating Covid-19 patients in different hospitals and as of yesterday, only 60 percent of those beds were occupied.
He also denied the allegations that patients were not getting treatment at 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 as only 50 of the 400 ventilators are being used."
He added that most of the patients placed on a ventilator died within a few days.
The minister also said high flow oxygen is essential for Covid-19 patients. So, the government has taken initiative for 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 bills and food costs of doctors and health workers at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), Zahid said the allegation was not correct as some 3,700 healthcare staffers, including doctors, stayed in 50 hotels for a month and Tk 500 was given to each of them every day for three meals.
So, the allegation regarding the irregularities was not correct.
He said currently there was no allegation about the standard of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The government has already sent 30 lakh PPEs to different hospitals, he added.