The government is mulling a 10-year tax break in the next budget for investments in setting up specialised hospitals with a view to ensuring quality health services at an affordable cost, according to the finance ministry and the National Board of Revenue officials.
To get the tax facility, investors have to construct either a 200-bed specialised hospital or a 250-bed general hospital, they said, adding that such an investment will have to be made outside Dhaka, Chattogram, Gazipur and Narayanganj districts.
Currently, almost all specialised hospitals are based in Dhaka and Chattogram cities. The new initiative will encourage investments in peripheries which will provide healthcare services to people in those underserviced areas, according to experts and entrepreneurs.
They said it is part of government initiatives for economic recovery amid the pandemic.
Dr Shafiun Nahin Shimul, an assistant professor at Dhaka University's Institute of Health Economics, told The Business Standard, "It will be a good decision to decentralise healthcare facilities. Almost every specialised hospital is now located in Dhaka and Chattogram metro areas."
Dr Shafiun also said, "The tax holiday facility will encourage private entrepreneurs to focus in this sector."
He also mentioned that the government should announce a special incentive for specialised healthcare professionals to encourage them to go outside the cities, otherwise, periphery-level hospitals might face a shortage of experts.
Priti Chakraborty, acting president at the Bangladesh Chamber of Industries, said it will be a milestone for the health sector, which will make it easier to provide quality health services to marginal people.
"The pandemic has opened our eyes to giving priority to the healthcare sector," she added.
"The government will also have to properly monitor new specialised hospitals," said Priti Chakraborty, also chairman of the Universal Medical College and Hospital Ltd.
She also urged the government to provide some additional facilities for current hospitals.
Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said, "We need more hospitals to give healthcare services to people, but during the pandemic, our first job is to prevent infections to minimise the number of patients."
It will be easier to provide proper treatment in that case, he added.
"We need to invest more in public health activities to create awareness on handwashing, mask-wearing, and maintaining self-quarantine if anyone gets infected," he also said.
He also warned that if the government does not allocate more funds in research on the public health structure, Bangladesh might face worse consequences than the US.
Current status of hospitals
According to the Directorate General of Health Services data, there are 6,201 public sector hospital and healthcare facilities in Bangladesh, while the number of specialised hospitals is about 23.
As of June 2019, the DGHS provided registration to 15,728 private hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centres, and blood banks.
The number of registered private hospitals and clinics is 5,321, and that of registered private diagnostic centres is 10,407.
The total number of beds in these registered private hospitals and clinics is 91,537.
Sources in the health sector said in the private sector, most specialised hospitals are located in Dhaka and Chattogram.