Health and development experts have appealed to the government for an adequate allocation for the country's health sector in the upcoming budget. They have proposed the formation of a separate commission to serve as a watchdog to monitor health sector operations.
The commission could include civil society members, suggested economist and adviser to a caretaker government Hossain Zillur Rahman at a webinar entitled "International Vaccine Business: Bangladesh Perspective" on Wednesday.
With imported Covid doses, Hossain Zillur Rahman said, Bangladesh already lags behind other nations in mass inoculation campaigns.
"We have been developing a vaccine, but there has been no update on it for a while. Even countries like Cuba and Iran have developed their own shots, and are going for manufacturing now," he noted.
The economist said Bangladesh had missed the Chinese offer to co-develop a Covid-19 vaccine due to Dhaka's over-dependence on a single source.
"But with the situation having changed now, we need to focus on vaccine manufacturing alongside import," he said, adding, "everyone knows Bangladesh's capability in South Asia on vaccine production as we have earlier shown remarkable success in making other vaccines."
Apart from producing the shots locally, he said the government should encourage people to get immunised since a large section of the population is still hesitant over receiving the doses.
Citing corruption in the health sector, Jahangirnagar University economics teacher Prof Anu Muhammad said the health ministry with its purchase anomalies could only spend 21% of the budget allocation in nine months of the current year.
"It clearly demonstrates its meagre capacity. The health authorities do not take up projects that have no scope for graft," he commented.
"So, we have to strengthen monitoring on the health ministry, and we have to take responsibility as citizens of the country."
"If bureaucrats, domestic and multinational companies have access to vaccine purchase deals, why would not such agreements then be made available to people?" he asked.
Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told the programme that vaccine purchase at higher rates would certainly put pressure on the economy.
"But the financial losses will be huge if people are not immunised immediately. It is high time we spent whatever amount the imports take. But this does not mean throwing money down the drain," she added.
Fahmida Khatun said corruption in the health sector is back in business amid widespread questions about the capacity of the sector.
"With the issues unsettled, it will not be wise to allocate 2% of GDP for health. We need to ramp up the sector's capacity first," said the CPD executive director.
Referring to Covid-19 as an acid test for the health sector, Prof Syed Abdul Hamid, former director of Dhaka University's Institute of Health Economics, said there is still no official documentation of health sector issues though such issues have already been exposed.
"We have to recognise the problem formally, and then work to find out the solutions," he noted.
Prof Mazharul Haq, former regional adviser of the World Health Organization (WHO), said Bangladesh now needs to work on every potential source of vaccine.
Efforts to enhance national health capacity will have a positive impact on the sector in the long run, he added.