Stressed from being on the frontline for nearly a year after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh, healthcare workers find the promises of rewards and incentives empty.
The government issued several letters to public healthcare facilities last year, asking for lists of those engaged in Covid-19 treatment, for handing out a one-time special allowance equivalent to one's two-month basic salary, and for daily allowance. Separate lists should also be prepared to pay compensations to the families of healthcare providers who have died of Covid-19.
But there has been little progress in translating the promises of financial benefits into reality.
One such letter issued on 9 July 2020 said the Health Service Division of the health and family welfare ministry would verify the lists and then pass an order for disbursement of the special allowance, with permission from the Finance Division.
It also said the fund for the payment was kept aside in the annual budget for the fiscal 2020-21.
Director of the Directorate General of Health Services (administration) Hasan Imam said the directorate had sent the lists – collected from Covid-dedicated hospitals – to the health ministry for special allowance a few months back.
Healthcare workers, however, are yet to receive it.
Speaking to The Business Standard, a doctor working at the intensive care unit of Kurmitola General Hospital said he had received the daily allowance until the June/July period.
This allowance was allocated to healthcare workers who did not live in the facilities arranged by the government for the 15-day quarantine period, after every 15-day cycle of the service period.
The daily allowance for doctors treating Covid-19 was set at Tk2,000 within Dhaka metropolitan and at Tk1,800 elsewhere. For nurses, allocations were Tk1,200 and Tk1,000, and for other health workers Tk800 and Tk650.
"No one in my knowledge has received the daily allowance after June/July, let alone the special allowance. I am not expecting it either. I am happy that I am getting N-95 masks and personal protective equipment which I used to buy with my own money at the beginning," the Kurmitola doctor said, asking not to be named fearing reprisal.
Dr Farid Hossain Miah, director (hospitals and clinics) of DGHS, said the hospitals were supposed to pay daily allowances. "Many have already submitted bills to hospital authorities. They will get it."
Health workers have been beating all odds to save lives from the disease for the last one year, operating in an unsophisticated public healthcare system. The lack of logistics and manpower that had all along been part of this system suddenly became apparent when doctors, nurses and technologists had to speak out, pressed against the pandemic.
That was when the government not only fixed some of the cracks in this system but also recognised the role played by healthcare providers dealing with a pathogen that they, like all other people, had little knowledge about.
"Many positive changes occurred in the healthcare sector during this time. Healthcare providers worked hard and did their best to overcome the crisis. But without any reward, they will not feel inspired to continue doing this," said a doctor from Barguna District Hospital, seeking anonymity.
One hundred and thirty-one doctors and 18 nurses have died from Covid-19 infection while discharging their duties. The government declared a compensation of Tk25-50 lakh for them along with other professionals who died of Covid-19 for performing duties amid the pandemic.
Only the family of Dr Md Moyeen Uddin, the first among the physicians who died of the disease, received Tk50 lakh in compensation.
"The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has not yet properly sent documents of the doctors who died to the health ministry. On receiving the papers, the health ministry will send those to the finance ministry and then the families will get the compensations," said Mohammad Shahadat Hossain, additional secretary of the health ministry.
The DGHS also failed to make the lists for special allowance. It may take time, but health workers will get the special allowance, daily allowance and compensation, as promised, he said.
Among the Covid-dedicated facilities, the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) sent a list in November for special allowance, said hospital Director Brig Gen Nazmul Haque.
"Many names were dropped at the time, which was why we made a new list of 3,500 health workers and sent it to the ministry this month," he said, adding that a separate list was being prepared for disbursement of the daily allowance.
Since the DMCH is a big hospital, it is taking time to record the names and the number of days they should be paid for, Nazmul said. Moreover, the families of two nurses and two support staff, who died of Covid-19, are yet to receive compensations declared by the government, he added.