Lawmakers in parliament have yet again discussed various irregularities, corruption and mismanagement plaguing the healthcare sector of Bangladesh, and they criticised Health Minister Zahid Maleque as well.
Speaking at the 14th session of the 11th parliament on Wednesday, lawmakers also complained about the high medical fees charged by private hospitals, the inefficiency in healthcare services, and doctors' involvement in politics.
"The country's healthcare sector is currently in a state of disarray. The same people working at public hospitals are doing business at private healthcare facilities too," said BNP lawmaker Md Harunur Rashid.
Addressing the health ministry, Rashid continued, "So many private medical college hospitals have been established in the country, how many of those have [acceptable] standards? How many learners studying at private medical colleges are passing the BCS exam?
"What action has been taken against irregularities that plagued the medical colleges' admission process from 2013 to 2019? On the issue of students who got admitted to medical colleges through irregularities, the government had said no such anomalies took place. But a CID report now shows that irregularities had occurred there for seven years."
The lawmaker further complained, "Equipment worth thousands of crore Taka have been wasted away in the last ten years, but what action has the health ministry taken in this regard?
"Bangladesh's healthcare sector has been destroyed in a planned way. Every day, the media is publishing news about irregularities in at least one of [its] divisions. Tk10 lakh crore has been laundered in the past 12 years."
Criticising private hospitals, another BNP lawmaker Rumeen Farhana said, "Do we have any information regarding how many families lost their financial solvency amid the Covid-19 crisis?
"Only a few available reports show that people, who went to private hospitals for treatment amid the pandemic, out of desperation, after public hospitals failed to provide it, became bankrupt bearing the medical fees."
She continued, "Many survived, but lost financial solvency. A significant number of people either lost all of their savings or became trapped in debt. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the middle-class population dropped from 70% to 50%, and poverty increased from 20% to 40%.
"The media paid more attention to the issue because of the pandemic, but throughout [the country's] history, people going bankrupt after taking treatment at private hospitals are not that rare."
Farhana claimed that among the private healthcare facilities facing most allegations of bankrupting people through fees, the topmost hospital and medical college is owned by a ruling party lawmaker.
She further said, "The country's healthcare is gradually being handed over to the private sector. There is a place in Chattogram called the CRB, which is considered as the port city's oxygen [supply]. I have heard that the area will be given to the private sector for building a hospital.
"The transferring of public land to the private sector is a matter of great sorrow."
Addressing the doctors' tendency of engaging in private practice despite working at public hospitals, Jatiya Party lawmaker Mujibul Haque said, "Admin, judge or police cadres cannot engage in private consultancy while working in a government job.
"When a BCS officer engages in private practice after duty, their main job will suffer."
He continued, "We have seen that hospitals such as Dhaka's United and LabAid are dacoits. When people go there for treatment, these facilities charge their patients Tk1 lakh, Tk2 lakh or even Tk10 lakh, and hold them until they pay.
"A rate should be fixed for all types of treatment being provided by private hospitals."
Speaking at parliament, Jatiya Party lawmaker Pir Fazlur Rahman drew attention to the shortage of technologists and a large number of inoperable equipment found at public hospitals.
Addressing the issue of doctors' involvement in politics, Dhaka-6 lawmaker Kazi Firoz Rashid said, "The BNP had created the Doctors Association of Bangladesh (DAB), while the Awami League created Swadhinata Chikitshak Parishad (Swachip).
"If doctors engage in politics, what will we do? They [doctors] should switch their profession to politics. This [issue] is depriving us of [healthcare] services"
Echoing the same, BNP lawmaker Mosharraf Hossain said,
"We are politicians, so we will do politics. Law enforcers will focus on enforcing the law, and doctors will provide healthcare. We must fix such matters.
"The way private hospitals are making money by monetising healthcare is causing people to go bankrupt."
"I like criticism because it strengthens me"
Responding to the questions posed by his fellow lawmakers, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "I like criticism because it strengthens me … Parliament has become very lively. Please say what is on your mind, and I will answer. I have come prepared for this."
Addressing the issue of high private hospital fees, the minister said, "Private hospitals have provided healthcare for the Covid-19 patients. We have held meetings to set up their treatment fees. I am optimistic that a solution will come."
Countering the argument against doctors' involvement in politics, Maleque said, "Politics is for everyone. Engineers and lawyers are allowed to engage in politics. So, I find no issues with doctors making their associations as well."
Terming Bangladesh's healthcare sector as decent, he said, "The country's citizens could not have achieved an average life expectancy of 73 years without good healthcare. This is a contribution of the health ministry.
"I admit that the sector has a shortage of manpower. But we have appointed nearly 30,000 people even amid the Covid-19 crisis. Besides, 10,000 doctors were hired, and the appointment of 4,000 more got approved. The process is also on to hire nearly 8,000 nurses."
He continued, "We initially had planned to hire 4,000 technologists, but the move faced some criticism. We have decided that hiring 3,000-4,000 technologists would be inadequate, so we will launch a process to appoint 10,000-12,000 of them instead.
"Moreover, 409 anesthesiologists have been appointed, and they will start working in the next two-three days."
On Wednesday, parliament also passed the Medical Colleges (Governing Bodies) Repeal Bill 2021, Bangladesh Children's Hospital and Institute Bill 2021, Medical Degrees (Repeal) Bill 2021, and Kurigram Agricultural University Bill 2021.