Rattled by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the government has moved to set up intensive care units (ICU) and ventilators at all major public hospitals, including the district headquarters medical facilities.
Three projects are in the pipeline, to be funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
The 2020-21 fiscal year budget will keep aside Tk3,000 crore to fund the projects.
The government has already taken up three projects funded by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) after the first coronavirus detection in the country on March 8.
These projects will cover setting up intensive care units, purchasing ventilators, installing thermal scanners at air, sea and land ports, setting up five critical care units at every upazila and introducing modern microbiology labs and PCR labs.
Officials concerned said the price of an ICU unit can be Tk1.60 lakh to Tk2.50 lakh subject to the quality. Ventilator prices range from Tk4 lakh to Tk40 lakh, depending on quality.
However, many countries are now manufacturing ventilators at reasonable prices in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The ongoing and proposed projects for medical equipment purchase and building infrastructures may cost Tk8,077 crore, according to finance and health ministry officials.
The health ministry says the country has always had an ICU shortage. Apart from the district hospitals, many public and private medical college hospitals do not even have any intensive care unit.
Therefore, critically ill patients from different parts of the country have to come to the capital for treatment. Many among them cannot survive the long journey.
According to the ministry, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the shortage severely as many have reportedly died after not getting ICU or ventilation facilities. The government has taken up the three projects to purchase necessary medical equipment on an urgent basis.
Under the projects, health ministry officials hope that 250 ventilators and 400 ICUs will be set up within next three months.
Overhauling healthcare up to the grassroots
Md Habibur Rahman, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health, said the government has taken this initiative to overhaul the healthcare system at the district level.
At the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) meeting on Tuesday, the prime minister also ordered setting up ICUs and ventilators at district hospitals.
"We have taken up three projects and discussions are going on over four more," Habibur Rahman told The Business Standard on Tuesday.
"The JICA, KOICA and AIIB proposals are being discussed. The projects may be finalized within the next two months," he added.
The KOICA and AIIB proposed a loan of Tk1,700 crore for the government for medical equipment purchase. Meanwhile, JICA has said it will directly buy and supply necessary equipment to the government. The deadline for the completion of the three projects will be three years.
Habibur Rahman said the district hospitals do not have infrastructures to accommodate ICU beds. Initially, therefore, new infrastructures will be built under the projects.
However,the government is already collecting the sophisticated medical equipment under the projects it took up through responding to the virus crisis.
KOICA wants govt to procure from Korea
The Tk850 crore loan proposal of the KOICA has proposed that the government purchase medical equipment directly from South Korea. It has sent the government a price list too.
However, the government thinks the prices are a bit high compared to the international market, said finance and health ministry officials.
"Bangladesh has proposed cancelling the terms of the loan and the issue is under discussion," they added.
Meanwhile, the JICA sent a list of nearly 200 items to the health ministry, wanting to know Bangladesh's requirements. The ministry has already replied to JICA giving its requirements.
However, it is still under discussion as to whether the equipment is under loan or grant assistance.
The AIIB offered Tk850 crore for emergency health equipment collection. This fund is proposed for building Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) offices in district headquarters and setting up modern research labs.
Preferring anonymity, a high official of the finance ministry familiar with budget drafting told The Business Standard that the health sector would get Tk27,850 crore in the upcoming budget—Tk2,118 crore more than in the current fiscal year.