BGMEA health centres lack docs, medicine facilities
The health centres of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) at different commercial hubs in the country are running with inadequate treatment facilities for garment workers.
According to BGMEA, the authority of country's highest employment generating RMG sector, each health centre is running for around 2.4 lakh workers. Its over 4500 member factories have a total of 24 lakh workers. Of them, 85 percent workers are women.
Since 1994, the association is running 10 centres, including seven at Malibagh, Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Gulshan, Postogola, Konabari and Uttara in Dhaka city, one in Narayanganj and two in the port city.
Of the health centres, four are running with the financial support of UNFPA. The centres are Malibagh, Mirpur, Narayanganj and Agrabad in Chittagong.
Doctors at Malibagh, Mirpur, Postogola and Narayanganj centres said medicines and reagents allocated for the workers are very inadequate, adding that the medicines allocated per month finish within first half of the month.
They stressed the need for providing ultrasonogram, x-ray machine and surgical equipment to the centres which also lack detection equipment for Aids and tuberculosis.
To manage medicine crisis, doctors usually prescribe and provide patients with a three-day course for certain medicines and sometimes prescribe them for buying medicines from outside, they added.
Even factory owners do not let them visit the centres according to their needs and the workers cannot afford to buy medicines from market. As a result, workers usually discontinue taking medicines, said the doctors.
Monthly budget for medicines and reagents for Mirpur and Malibagh health centres are Tk 55 to Tk 60 thousand for around 2000 patients on average per month, while budget for each of the rest eight centres is Tk 20 to Tk 25 thousand for over 800 patients on average per month.
Recognising medicine shortage in the centres, BGMEA President Anwar-ul-Alam Chowdhury said, “We are talking to different pharmaceutical factory authorities to donate medicines to the centres in order to manage medicine shortage.”
Malibagh centre has the only eye care unit among the 10 health centres, but the number of patients for eye problems is very little. Since July 1994 to September 2008, a total number of 898 patients were treated there.
No doctor was found while visiting the Narayanganj health centre, a UNFPA-funded centre at mid-November. The officials said the centre has been lacking a doctor for over a month. A paramedic was doing the doctor's job in his or her absence.
Although there are two UNFPA-donated ambulances for use of the workers in Dhaka and Chittagong, those are used for the official purpose of BGMEA. Workers never get the service of these ambulances.
The BGMEA president said, “Ensuring health, education and transportation to the workers are the responsibilities of the government, but BGMEA has taken these responsibilities, as the government is inactive in this respect. We are providing treatment according to our ability.”
Doctor Debnath Bhoumik of Mirpur Health Centre said reproductive tract infection (RTI), urinary tract infection (UTI), needle and cut injuries, jaundice, viral fever, diarrhea, general weakness, pregnancy, gastritis, leucorrhoea, tonsillitis, sexually transmitted disease (STD), skin disease, traumatic injury, anemia, eye disease, hypertension and rheumatic fever are the common diseases and problems of the workers.
Weakness is very common to all workers irrespective of gender, he added.
The yearly reports of Malibagh health centre from 1999 to 2006 show that number of RTI patients is the highest every year. The total number within the period is 51,644. The next highest numbers of different diseases include UTI (33,773), needle and cut injury (27,245), skin infection (26,767), anaemia (22,853) and leucorrhoea (7,390).
The common feature of the patients was that each patient comes to their respective health centres at the eleventh hour. The main reason of such carelessness is the factory owners' restriction to let them visit the medical centres in need.
Besides the awareness building programme, UNFPA-backed centres provide some small surgical and pathological facilities for the workers. Only free medicine for the common diseases and antibiotics are available at the rest six health centres.