Bangladesh boosts health budget by 4%. And analysts lament a ‘missed’ opportunity

  • Staff Correspondent,
    Published: 2021-06-04 01:09:36 BdST

Bangladesh plans to boost spending by 4 percent on healthcare, a key sector in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, in the proposed national budget for fiscal 2021-22.

As part of the government’s efforts to redress the fallout of the pandemic, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Thursday announced a Tk 327.31 billion outlay on health and family welfare in the proposed Tk 6.04 trillion spending plan.

"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,” said Kamal.

However, experts believe the government missed an opportunity to bring about substantial changes to the healthcare system with its latest offering.

Set against the backdrop of a devastating second wave of the pandemic in 2021, the proposed budget for the health sector makes up 5.4 percent of the total budget for FY22. However, it only marks a slight increase from the previous year's 5.1 percent.

Although there is no separate allocation for vaccines in the latest budget, Kamal said a loan agreement for $940 million with the Asian Development Bank to procure COVID-19 vaccines is at the final stage. There is also a 'good possibility' to receive support for vaccine procurement from the European Investment Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, according to him.

Different projects are being implemented with the funding of $600 million from the World Bank, $100 million from the ADB and $100 million from the AIIB.

Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal delivers the budget speech for the 2021-22 fiscal year in parliament on Thursday, Jun 3, 2021. Photo: PMO

Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal delivers the budget speech for the 2021-22 fiscal year in parliament on Thursday, Jun 3, 2021. Photo: PMO

Prof Dr Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of the National Committee on Health Rights Movement, said the expectations of an increase in the budgetary allocation for the health sector ultimately failed to materialise.

Although the latest health budget is higher than the revised outlay of Tk 314.72 billion in FY21, he fears that inflation will diminish the impact of the extra funds.

"From another perspective, the budget allocation for health is not even 1 percent of the GDP.”

Mahbub, a former president of the Bangladesh Medical Association, believes the current structure of the health sector is 'outdated' and needs to be reformed.

“The health sector needs to be revamped but it hasn't happened yet. There is a bulk allocation of Tk 100 billion, with which vaccines can be purchased and other works can be done. But in the general sense, there is no allocation in that budget for health management.”

Prof Syed Abdul Hamid of Dhaka University's Institute of Health Economics said the coronavirus pandemic provided a chance to make necessary changes in the health sector but the proposed budget represented a 'missed opportunity'.

"We needed to start the process now. The problems must be identified first which will be reflected in the budget. We don't have the mindset to make any input to bring the relevant changes nor do we have the budget."

"Emphasis must be given to change the multidimensional aspects of healthcare and that hasn't been the case."

He called on the government to take immediate steps to earmark the source of the bulk allocation for the health sector to ensure that the funds are available when needed.

“If that money is spent wisely and if corruption is reduced, then I think momentum can be added to the management of the COVID-19 crisis.”