Bangladesh's healthcare system will have to be overhauled. This will not happen with just a single-year budget – a few budgets will be needed.
Allocations to unimportant projects in different sectors should be minimised and the priority should be shifted towards the health sector, former governor of the Bangladesh Bank Dr Atiur Rahman said.
He said this on Monday while delivering the keynote presentation at a budget discussion webinar organised by the non-governmental think tank Unnayan Shamannay.
"Next year's budget needs to be an emergency budget. Ensuring universal health coverage for all and expanding the social safety net should be prioritised."
"It is pointless now to argue about the viability of the growth rate projected in the proposed budget. People need to focus more on ways to save lives," Dr Atiur said.
"The proposed budget may not be as out-of-the-box as many had expected. However, still, the government has tried its level best to cautiously allocate adequate resources to the priority sectors," he continued.
The panel discussants at the webinar were Dr Mahbuba Nasreen, professor at Dhaka University, Dr AK Enamul Haque, professor at the East West University, and Dr SM Zulfiqar Ali, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.
Unnayan Shamannay's Emeritus Fellow Khondker Shakhawat Ali moderated the discussion.
Dr Atiur said that implementing a budget is always challenging.
"Additionally, due to Covid-19 this year, it will be even more difficult. Yet the government has come up with a bold and optimistic budget that reflects the understandings, aspirations, and the dreams of the people," he said.
"Only unprecedented collaboration among all stakeholders can ensure recovery while coping with an unprecedented shock," he continued.
The panellists agreed that the proposed budget, to a great extent, attempted to address the challenges posed by the outbreak.
Yet, they maintained, allocations in priority sectors like health, a social safety net, agriculture, and education can be increased through the redistribution of sectoral allocations.
Dr Zulfiqar Ali pointed out that there is a possibility that a new safety net programme be created to support those who have fallen below the poverty line due to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown.
Dr AK Enamul Haque said, "Increased allocations in health indicate a quantitative change only. While such change is expected and necessary, the budget should have adequately focused on the qualitative side of the health sector as well."