Despite having one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Bangladesh lags far behind in providing standard health services to its more than 166 million people, exacerbating their woes in the mid of the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts have suggested universal health coverage to ensure that everyone can access quality health services without financial hardship, as the existing expensive health system forces more than 5 million people into poverty each year, according to the Organization. World Health Organization (WHO).
Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque admitted Thursday at an event in Dhaka that Bangladesh is not giving due importance to the health sector.
“Our budget for the health sector is only 0.9% of GDP,” he said, adding that the government was trying to make 9-10% for its development.
People’s woes deepen
Saif Uddin, 36, an employee of a private company in the capital of Dhaka, had recently admitted his father to Dhaka Medical College Hospital after he started having difficulty breathing. Her father later tested positive for COVID-19 and needed oxygen and intensive care unit (ICU) support.
“I had to transfer my 74-year-old father to a private caregiver in Dhaka because we were unable to get the necessary services from the public hospital. Now my father is being treated in a regular room in a private hospital after receiving uninterrupted intensive care unit support for eight days, ”he said.
“We had to pay at least 500,000 takas [approximately $6,000], which forced us to save money in the bank to cover the cost of the treatment, ”he told Anadolu agency.
Saif is among the thousands of Bangladeshis who are forced to cover the lion’s share of the costs of their health care, mainly due to the lack of national health coverage or insurance programs from the government.
Residents of the country are falling into poverty to cover their health costs, which have increased dramatically amid the coronavirus pandemic, as they have to depend mainly on private caregivers, said Professor Muzaherul Huq, former WHO regional director (Southeast Asian region), Anadolu told news agency.
“People are more interested in keeping money in banks instead of spending on private health insurance programs because businesses across the country have yet to gain people’s trust,” he said. said, adding that “most people don’t know about health insurance.”
Private companies cannot be a solution to health coverage until the government introduces health insurance programs and hospitals integrate them accordingly, Huq suggested.
He said the WHO is currently working on a public health pilot project.
Monolithic healthcare, the drug market driving poor healthcare
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, Bangladesh’s first independent health center or hospital, raised concerns about the expensive and out of control drug market in the country.
In 1982, the military government took responsibility for setting the price of drugs, Chowdhury said, and criticized elected governments for allowing private drug companies to “control the market without worrying about the welfare of the people.” .
“Patients have to bear most of the costs of treatment,” he lamented, criticizing “pharmaceutical companies for determining drug prices”, which are often too high.
In addition, the country faces a host of challenges, including a critical shortage of health workers, as most doctors choose to work in large cities, while 70% of the population lives in rural areas, a- he added.
He proposed that the government recruit union-level trainee doctors to provide treatment in rural areas for at least two years, which will benefit both.
“Private insurance programs are not effective initiatives for such a large population, and only a small part could opt for private insurance because the majority could not bear the premium of private insurance,” he said. he declares.
Introducing national health insurance programs to provide standard and inexpensive treatment is not a big deal, but political will is needed for this, he continued.
No more health budget, policies of the health commission must be adopted
Syed Abdul Hamid, professor at the Institute of Health Economics at Dhaka University, said the government provides only 17% of the total health expenditure of the country’s citizens while 7% comes from donor agencies. and that people have to support 74% of their own savings.
He proposed that the government increase the budget allocation to halve the burden on the population, but added pessimistically that this would be difficult under the current circumstances.
However, he believes the government will increase services if it strengthens health care management capacity and makes good use of the existing health budget.
Hamid suggested forming a “National Health Commission” and a working group made up of health experts and stakeholders to address the need to introduce national health coverage programs and compulsory health insurance.
“Before that, we need a national ‘law on health security’ to have precise guidelines and policies,” he added.
Existing private insurance companies are unable to gain the trust of the public, and a lack of oversight by government regulators has exacerbated the problem, as people’s lack of trust has hampered the growth of the insurance industry. private insurance, which could further stimulate the health sector. , he claimed.
“Medicare for ordinary people across the world was introduced by the government because private insurance companies cannot force people to have a package of health coverage. And the public and government hospitals will have the mechanism to incorporate the services because they will provide the service to the people, ”Hamid said.
Syed Mojibul Huq, additional secretary of the Public Health Division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, told Anadolu Agency that the government is working closely to meet the need to introduce health coverage for its citizens and employees.
“At the last salary commission, we introduced health coverage for 2.1 million government employees who receive a monthly salary from the public treasury,” he said.
They have held meetings with government agencies, private insurance companies and hospitals to work on the need for health coverage for people who are interested in life and health insurance companies, he said. added.
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