Healthcare for freedom fighters: Many not aware of medical benefits

Logo of Jatio Muktijoddha Council (National Freedom Fighters Council)

Two freedom fighters were wandering aimlessly with some documents at the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs. One had travelled from Jashore, and the other had come from Mymensingh. Both came to seek assistance for their medical treatment, but unfortunately, they were unable to reach the Minister of Liberation War Affairs. 

These freedom fighters had arrived at the Ministry, located on Bangladesh Secretariat Link Road in the capital, with various issues, including their own concerns. However, it was unnecessary for these two individuals to visit the ministry seeking medical assistance. If they had identified themselves as freedom fighters, they could have gone directly to the hospital for medical treatment.

On behalf of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs, 24 specialised hospitals across the country have been equipped to provide treatment to freedom fighters suffering from severe health conditions. These hospitals offer treatment facilities of up to Tk 200,000 to eligible freedom fighters. If additional funds are required for a freedom fighter's treatment, it will be allocated based on the decision of the hospital's medical board. Additionally, for common illnesses, freedom fighters are entitled to medical benefits of up to Tk 75,000 per year.

However, many freedom fighters in the country remain unaware of the government's medical facilities. This programme has received limited publicity. Prothom Alo talked to 30 freedom fighters from 20 districts, and most of them were unfamiliar with the names of hospitals providing treatment facilities or the allocation of Tk 200,000. 

One such is former deputy commander of Faridpur Muktijoddha Sangsad, Nazrul Islam. He stated to Prothom Alo that he is not aware of any information regarding freedom fighters receiving a maximum of Tk 200,000 in medical benefits. He had not heard any announcement about this and had not seen any circular regarding this matter. Previously, four per cent of the lease money from government markets was allocated to the freedom fighters' fund, and that money was distributed among the ailing freedom fighters. However, this programme has now been discontinued.

Montu Gopal Chowdhury, a freedom fighter from Naldanga village in Jhenaidah Sadar Upazila, mentioned that most of the freedom fighters are financially disadvantaged, and many cannot afford medical treatment due to financial constraints. However, they are unaware that the government has allocated funds for their treatment. Access to these funds would greatly benefit them.

Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque has acknowledged that many people are unaware of the medical facilities available in specialised hospitals for freedom fighters. He informed Prothom Alo that despite medical services being offered in 24 hospitals, the majority of freedom fighters remain unaware of this fact.

He suggested that either the awareness campaign falls short or those responsible for the campaign are not fulfilling their duties adequately. The minister expressed a commitment to improve awareness by sending letters and advertisements throughout the country and called for the cooperation of hospital authorities in this endeavour. 

How can the freedom fighters avail this benefit

The government introduced a new policy on 1 November, 2022, which replaced the previous policy of utilising lease money from markets for the medical treatment of freedom fighters. Subsequently, on 5 June, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs and the Health Services Division to provide treatment benefits to freedom fighters. 

Under the new policy, veteran freedom fighters are entitled to treatment for critical diseases, including heart disease, kidney disease, paralysis, cancer, and brain infection. In cases where brave freedom fighters seek treatment for critical diseases at specialised hospitals, up to Tk 200,000 can be expended based on the recommendation of the hospital authority and approval from the ministry. Similarly, for emergency surgery and treatment of a freedom fighter, up to Tk 200,000 can be spent at the discretion of the hospital authorities, with subsequent approval required from the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs.

The designated amount will not be disbursed to freedom fighters in the form of cash or a check; instead, they can receive medical treatment directly from the hospital. To access this benefit, no application will be necessary; proof of being a freedom fighter will be sufficient. It's important to note that this benefit does not extend to the spouses or children of freedom fighters. 

The 24 specialised hospitals include Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital, Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, Sir Salimullah Medical College and Hospital, National Cancer Research Institute and Hospital, National Orthopedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Institute , National Kidney Institute and Hospital, and National Cardiovascular Institute and Hospital.

The list also include National Ophthalmology Institute and Hospital, National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital, National Institute of Neurosciences and Hospital, National Mental Health Institute and Hospital, National Heart Foundation Hospital & Research Institute, BIRDEM General Hospital, Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, Ibrahim Cardiac Hospital and Research Institute, Shaheed Sheikh Abu Naser Specialized Hospital, Khulna, Sheikh Fazilatunnessa Mujib Eye Hospital and Training Institute, Gopalganj, Chittagong Medical College Hospital, Mymensingh Medical College Hospital, Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, Rangpur Medical College Hospital, Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital and Barisal Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat