Forty percent of the country's ready-made garment (RMG) industry's workers, out of 42 lakh, are deprived of medical treatment due to the high cost of healthcare.
The Institute of Health Economics of Dhaka University (DU) revealed the information at a coordination meeting called, "Policy Framework for Health Insurance Model in RMG Sector of Bangladesh" on Friday.
The institute recommended the formation of a special Insurance Fund Management Organisation to ensure the healthcare of these sick RMG workers.
Professor Dr Syed Abdul Hamid of the institute presented the keynote address at the meeting.
He said, "43% of garment workers fall ill at some point in the year. The type of their illness depends on the labour and work environment. They do not get proper treatment due to the excessive cost of healthcare services. Even at government hospitals, they face various difficulties to get treatment."
Noting that there is no alternative to introducing health insurance for this large population, Abdul Hamid said, "Although about half a crore people of the country work in this sector, only about 1% of the workers have health insurance coverage."
"No significant effort is apparent that brings the remaining RMG workers under health coverage. But, we are hopeful that if we can work with a combination of government and non-governmental organisations, their standards of living will change," said the DU professor.
"These workers have to take unpaid leave for an average of four more days per month outside of the scheduled sick leaves. It is affecting them financially," he added.
Mentioning that most of the insurance benefits that are now available to workers are pilot projects, he recommended the government create structures that make the projects permanent.
He also called upon all organisations – including public and private hospitals as well as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association – to work together to fulfill the basic rights of these marginalised workers.
Director of the Institute of Health Economics Nasreen Sultana said a large portion of the income of garment workers is spent on treatment and production is disrupted.
She said if the health of the workers of the country are brought under a health insurance facility, such workers will benefit and Bangladesh's production capacity will increase, strengthening the economy of the country as a whole.
"Covid-19 has taught us how important it is to ensure healthcare for all. It is important to increase the scope of health insurance for workers in productive and export-oriented sectors such as the garment industry," she added.
The meeting called upon public and private policy makers to come forward to form a special Insurance Fund Management Organisation to improve the image of the country's RMG sector on the global market.
The Institute of Health Economics and private development organisation SSV Bangladesh jointly organised the meeting.