An order signed by the Dhaka district civil surgeon on Thursday banned government hospitals from providing information on patients and healthcare to the media during the Covid-19 pandemic. Expressing deep concern over this, the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has demanded immediate cancellation of this directive.
The agency also called for taking strict action against those in whose interests such restrictions were imposed, as opposed to making all-out efforts to control the pandemic collectively through free flow of information.
"Imposing restrictions on the disclosure of healthcare information at government hospitals in Dhaka district to the media is a complete violation of the constitutional right of free media and free flow of information and the Right to Information Act," said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the TIB in a statement on Saturday.
Attempts to impose such restrictions nationally at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country had to be scrapped in the face of widespread protests, he said.
He said, "The lockdown imposed to control the pandemic has already reduced access to information for the general public, while not giving information to the media will deprive people of up-to-date information on healthcare, and it will be difficult to get a true picture of capacity and limitations of the hospitals, which cannot be desired."
Expressing suspicions that the order was a part of the intention to hide information about the ongoing irregularities, corruption and arbitrariness in the health sector, Dr Iftekharuzzaman said steps must be taken now to stop the cycle of repeated attempts to impose such restrictions.
Irregularities, corruption and mismanagement in the health sector appeared in the media in the last one year and were also pointed out by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the health ministry, he added.
"Recent research by the TIB has also highlighted the lack of good governance in the sector," he said and felt that publishing newspaper advertisements and banning information to media might be attempts to cover up irregularities in the health sector.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman pointed out that Covid-19 patients were being forced to seek treatment in private hospitals at an average cost of Tk5 lakh per head as the government failed to ensure enough ICU facilities in public hospitals even a year and four months after the onset of pandemic.