Opposition lawmakers criticised Health Minister Zahid Maleque in parliament on Monday over graft allegations against his ministry and the harassment of a Prothom Alo journalist.
The minister responded by saying that Bangladesh had been very successful in tackling the pandemic.
Jatiya Party Chairman Golam Mohammad Quader also pointed out how the government's promise to vaccinate 80% of the population was not backed up by adequate measures and that the proposed allocation for health fell short of the need.
During a discussion on the supplementary budget for fiscal year 2020-21, BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said corruption was rife in the health ministry's procurement and the minister should explain how he would reform his ministry.
While there are more doctors than needed in Dhaka, districts and upazilas are having a shortage of physicians, Rashid said.
The lawmaker said the government should clearly state when the inoculation drive would resume and explain why India had violated the vaccine contract signed with Bangladesh.
Jatiya Party lawmaker Rowshan Ara Mannan said the prime minister's intervention had helped reduce irregularities in the health ministry, but there were still anomalies.
Speaking about Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam's harassment, Rowshan said, "If a female journalist did wrong, why was she not handed over to police immediately? Why was she detained and tortured [at the health ministry] for six hours?"
Another Jatiya Party parliamentarian Kazi Firoz Rashid raised the same question. He said hospitals had run out of oxygen and that should be imported now, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and CT scan equipment were being imported instead.
BNP lawmaker Rumeen Farhana said Bangladesh had a much lower allocation for health compared to other South Asian countries.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said healthcare was a massive area and the quality of treatment in Bangladesh was as good as it was in the US.
He said there had never been a shortage of oxygen supply.
The Serum Institute of India could not supply vaccine doses, as promised, due to the increase in infections in India, but agreements have been signed to bring vaccines from China, Russia and the US, Maleque said.
What GM Quader said
Jatiya Party Chairman Golam Mohammad Quader in parliament said the economy would get a boost automatically if the pandemic was contained, the reason why public health should not be neglected.
"But it is being neglected."
Quader said the fund allocated for the health sector in the proposed budget was equivalent to 0.83% of GDP, which should have been hiked to 4-5% of GDP because of the pandemic. "It could at least be 2% of GDP."
The proposed health allocation for the next fiscal year is Tk32,731 crore, which The Business Standard estimated to be about 0.95% of GDP, less than this year's revised budget of 1.02%.
On Covid vaccination, Quader said the finance minister in the budget speech had pledged to ensure vaccination of 80% of the population by giving shots to 25 lakh people a month, but at this rate it would take about 10 years to deliver a double-dose vaccine to the targeted people.
"What will happen to lives and livelihoods in these 10 years? What will happen to the economy?" the opposition leader asked.
If the government cannot bring in new batches of vaccines, lives and livelihoods will be equally affected, and the economy will suffer too, Quader said.
Referring to media reports, he said the allocation in the health sector was being misused.
People have been arrested and cases filed but no punishment has been given, Quader said.
"They [who are misusing the fund] are escaping through loopholes, but those who are bring their misdeeds into the spotlight are facing problems."
The Jatiya party leader also said the proposed budget did not have any measure for employment of the middle-class and the poor. "Corporate tax has been reduced. So, rich will become richer and poor will become poorer."