Two projects of Tk2,500 crore taken up last year to build intensive care units and hospitals and purchase necessary equipment to provide healthcare to Covid patients could not be implemented yet following corruption allegations.
As a result, hospitals are struggling to treat a rising number of patients, with the onslaught of the second wave of the pandemic.
The funding was supposed to be done by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
The WB project of Tk1,127 crore met obstacles at the beginning when allegations of money misappropriation in purchases were raised. The first project director, Dr Iqbal Kabir was made an officer on special duty. Three people have taken the position since then but no one made any progress.
Under the project, each district hospital is supposed to get a 20-bed isolation centre and a five-bed critical care unit. Moreover, there was a plan to set up a 50-bed isolation centre and a 10-bed intensive care unit at each of the 17 medical college hospitals.
Meanwhile, in January this year, the project cost was revised to Tk6,614 crore, but as of now only Tk155 crore has been spent.
Most of the ICU beds and ventilators purchased are still in the government warehouse.
Since the health ministry has failed to spend the fund for the project, it now proposes giving back money, from the fund, which it took from the finance ministry – for buying vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India.
No spending has been made from the Tk1,365 crore ADP-funded project.
Additional Secretary of the Health Service Division Helal Uddin said Iqbal Kabir had been the PD of both the projects. When the Anti-Corruption Commission and other government bodies began investigating allegations of financial irregularities against him, no other officials wanted to take that position.
Finally, former civil surgeon of Chittagong DR Azizur Rahman Siddique reluctantly joined as the project director.
Sources said activities by the ministry, the ACC, law enforcement agencies, Foreign Aided Project Audit Directorate and audit officials of the WB were becoming barriers to any progress of the project.
Azizur, however, said he had started rolling out the project overcoming challenges.
Ministry sources said officials were not even interested in being a member of the tender evaluation committee of the project. A committee was formed comprising ministry officials, but they are not attending any meeting showing different excuses.
According to officials at the health ministry, the healthcare crisis would not have been this acute had the projects of nearly Tk 8,000 crore been properly implemented. Each district hospital could ensure treatment of Covid patients, and the capacity of medical college hospitals and public hospitals in Dhaka would have improved.
What the PD says
PD of WB-funded "Covid-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness" project, Azizur said three-four project officials had been deployed to look into the corruption allegations, and that halted the implementation.
He said that in a recent sign of progress work orders had been issued to set up central oxygen plants at 13 public hospitals. Seventeen such work orders will be issued by the next week.
Work has begun to set up 13 ICU units. Within days, work will begin to set up 17 ICU units, with each having 10 beds, and 20-bed isolation centres.
As per the demand of the Directorate General of Drug Administration, a drug testing lab is now under construction.
"If the production of a vaccine begins in the country, the lab will be able to check and ensure the quality."
Equipment left at the warehouse
The Central Medical Stores Depot has 300 ICU beds, 166 ventilators and 340 high-flow nasal cannulas in its warehouse. The medical tools and equipment were there even before the second wave hit the country.
CMSD Director Abu Hena Morshed Zaman told The Business Standard that, "We have enough ICU beds, ventilators and high-flow nasal cannulas in our store, which can meet the demand of the hospitals. We can deliver them within three hours after receiving a demand order from any hospital."
But hospitals could not boost their capacity to use them.