Disbursement of Covid-19 compensations among frontline healthcare providers has got stuck due to complexities in preparing the list of the eligible beneficiaries.
The health and finance ministries have not yet even received any list of the front line health workers who have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic hit the country.
Some 115 doctors and other health workers have died from Covid-19 in the country, but the family of only one of the deceased doctors has received the compensation in six months and a half since the aid was announced in April. Meanwhile, none of those frontline healthcare providers who have recovered from Covid-19 has yet been compensated.
The government also announced to provide two months' basic salary as incentive for healthcare professionals who are on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. But they have not received the money yet. No list of eligible beneficiaries has been prepared either.
So far, 103 doctors and 12 nurses have died from Covid-19 in the country, while the number of coronavirus-infected healthcare providers is around 8,000.
The family of Dr Md Moyeen Uddin, who died after being infected with coronavirus, was the first, and so far the sole instance in the health sector, to receive the government-declared compensation of Tk50 lakh.
According to sources at the Ministry of Finance, the government has so far disbursed compensation money among families of 32 government officials who have died from Covid-19. Apart from Dr Moyeen, the other officials include two secretaries and 29 policemen.
The finance ministry said the reason for the delay in disbursing the compensation money is that it has not received any list of dead or affected doctors or other health workers. The finance ministry said it will send the compensation money to the health ministry as soon as it gets the list.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said it is yet to receive the final list from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). The list will be forwarded to the finance ministry as soon as the health directorate sends it to the health ministry, officials concerned said.
The DGHS said it is scrutinising the list of doctors and other health workers who have died or recovered after getting infected with the coronavirus and that it needs more time to finalise the list.
Who to get how much compensation
According to a circular issued by the finance ministry on 23 April this year, government employees will receive between Tk5 lakh and Tk10 lakh, depending on their pay scale, as compensation if they contract Covid-19, and between Tk25 lakh and Tk50 lakh if they die after getting infected while performing duty amid the pandemic.
Under the national pay scale, employees from grade 1-9 will get Tk10 Lakh each, if they get infected with the coronavirus and if they die in the line of duty their next of kin will receive Tk50 lakh as compensation.
Similarly, employees and staffers from grades 10-14 will get Tk7.5 lakh, and those from grade 15-20 will get Tk5 lakh each if they contract the coronavirus while performing duty, the circular said, adding if any of these employees die in the line of duty, their family will get five times the initial compensation.
The healthcare professionals including doctors and nurses, field administration officials, members of armed forces and law enforcement agencies, and others staffers working directly amid the pandemic will be able to get the compensation, the circular further mentioned.
This money will be given according to the National Pay Scale 2015.
The government set aside Tk500 crore in the revised budget for the last fiscal year (FY20) for the purpose of compensating frontline government employees. An additional Tk800 crore has been allocated in the budget for the current fiscal for this purpose.
Delay in preparing the list
Dr Ehteshamul Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), said, "The Ministry of Health did not have any list of doctors who have died from Covid-19. We sent a list to the ministry a month ago."
Doctors did not seek any incentive from the government, he said, adding that they just wanted protective equipment and provisions for isolated living arrangements amid the pandemic.
Mentioning that the prime minister has announced the compensation on her own initiative, he however, said a fast disbursement of the compensation money will boost the morale of doctors.
According to the BMA, 8,092 health workers have been infected with Covid-19 in the country as of 31 October this year. Of them, 2,853 are doctors, 1,968 are nurses and 3,271 are other health workers. Meanwhile 103 doctors and 12 nurses have died from the novel coronavirus so far.
Ismat Ara Parven, president of the Bangladesh Nurses Association told the Business Standard that not a single nurse has received the compensation money as yet. What is more, the nurses who are providing treatment to Covid-19 patients are not even getting the daily food allowance, she alleged.
No disbursement of special incentive
A circular issued by the finance ministry on 9 July announced incentives for frontline health workers, but no one has yet received it.
According to the circular, doctors, nurses and health workers engaged in treating Covid-19 patients will get a lump-sum of two months' basic salary.
Wishing anonymity, a doctor engaged in treating coronavirus patients at the ICU of Mugda General Hospital in the capital said he has not received the incentive money, although his name was on the list of incentive-eligible doctors prepared by the hospital.
"Even if we don't get incentives, we will continue to do our job. But I feel cheated.
BMA Secretary General Dr Ehteshamul Haque Chowdhury said incentives for health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic are not a waste of public money. "If the doctors and health workers feel upset not getting the promised incentives, the healthcare service will be affected."
What does the health ministry say?
Mohammad Shahadat Hossain, additional secretary (Financial Management and Audit Sub-Division) of the health ministry, told The Business Standard, "We (the ministry) received some isolated names, asking for compensation for health workers. We have sent them to the health directorate for verification. Once the list is finalised, there will be no delay in disbursing the compensation money."
He added that a list is being prepared to provide the announced incentive equivalent two months' basic salary among the frontline health workers.
Habibur Rahman, director of the Management Information System (MIS) and spokesperson of the DGHS, said "We are scrutinising the list of doctors who have died from Covid-19. Even if it takes time to complete the work, everyone will get compensation for sure."