Finance Minister writes a big cheque for health sector

Publish: 8:42 PM, June 3, 2021 | Update: 8:42:PM, June 3, 2021

Sangsad Bhaban, – As the Coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on human health, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Thursday proposed an allocation of Tk32,731 crore for health services and health education sector, up Tk 3,484 crore than last year’s allocation, report UNB.

The minister came up with the proposal while unveiling the national budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year in Parliament.

With the new allocation, the health sector 5.42 percent of the total budget and 12 percent increase in absolute terms.

Though the government has given priority to the protection of lives and livelihoods, the total allocation is still nearly 1 percent of the GDP. But the World Health Organization recommends it should be at least 5 percent.

Health experts, however, said the proper implementation of the allocation is a big challenge for the health sector as the Health Ministry has long been manifesting poor performance in utilising the budgetary allocation.

They said the health ministry could not spend around Tk 9,000 crore of the development budgets of this sector in the outgoing fiscal year.

The experts warned that without well-thought-out plans, alongside their proper implementation and effective management, the intended goals cannot be achieved through the allocation earmarked for the health sector.

They also said the Health Ministry should now first identify the areas of expenditure and the demands of the health sector based on priorities, for an upgrade to the country’s healthcare services.

In his budget speech, the minister said, “Giving an utmost priority to the programmes and steps taken by the government to address the Covid-19 pandemic, I propose to allocate Tk. 32,731 crore for the Health and Family Welfare sector in the next fiscal year, which was Tk. 29,245 crore in FY2020-2021.”

Like last year, he said, they have made a slight deviation from the traditional budget for the sake of effectively combatting the Covid-19 pandemic and resolutely overcoming its economic impact by giving priority to protection of lives and livelihoods.

Kamal said he has made a structural change in the priority of the government in the next year’s budget.

“The health sector has been given the highest priority to address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and necessary allocations have been made in the next budget,” Kamal said.

During the pandemic, the minister said, they will continue adopting strategies to protect public health and the lives of people.

Besides, he said, they will lay utmost emphasis on implementing various activities in the health and family welfare sector in line with the medium- and long-term plans.

Sought reaction to the health budget, former director (disease control) of DGHS Be-Nazir Ahmed, said, “The allocation is not bad, but the main question is whether the health ministry will be able to spend it. They could not utilise the allocation set aside by the government in the current fiscal.”

He said the health ministry needs to enhance its capacity to implement the budget as well as tackle the Covid pandemic. “We hope the ministry will use the budgetary allocation properly to improve the services of the health sector.”

Talking to UNB, former World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Advisor Muzaherul Huq, said the total allocation has been increased but it is still not enough. “It’s still lower than the regional countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal and other SAARC countries.”

“But to me increasing the amount is not important when the ministry’s capacity and efficiency in quality management of the allocated amount is very weak,” he said.

Prof Huq also said it is now necessary to work out effective plans in the light of the pandemic to properly spend the allocation.

As the health sector grapples with rampant corruption, he said, the government should take stern measures against it and exemplary punishment must be ensured if anyone is found guilty.”

Public health expert MH Chowdhury (Lenin), chairman of the medicine department at the Health and Hope Hospital, said the allocation for the health sector has been increased mainly due to the prevalence of the coronavirus. “But the enhancement of the allocation will be meaningless if the ministry can’t come out of its failure to effectively use the money.”

He said the government should focus on improving the capacity of the health ministry to utilise the budgetary allocation for the development of the sector. “Besides, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the sector must be removed by ensuring good governance. Or else, people won’t get benefits from the huge allocation for the sector and the money will be wasted.”