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Professor Syed Abdul Hamid of Dhaka University's Institute of Health Economics presented a report on the need for policy structure and management regarding health insurance for Bangladesh's RMG workers. He said, only 1.4 per cent of the RMG workers were covered by insurance. SNV, CARE and BRAC were providing insurance facilities to 31,000 workers in 44 factories while Gonoshasthaya Kendra and Bangladesh Diabetic Association to 26,000 workers in 11 factories. These were pilot models. There was no involvement of the government or garment industry owners in these initiatives. Once the pilot projects are over, the workers will no longer receive these facilities.

Speaking as honourable guest, chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee of labour and employment ministry, Mujibul Huq, said that if insurance is to be set up, this must go beyond the sector and RMG workers. The workers of other sectors including the informal sector must also be taken into cognizance. The trust of people in insurance companies must also be taken into consideration.

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Director general of the health economics unit Md Shahadat Hossain Mahmud said it was justified to prioritise this sector for insurance in consideration of the RMG sector's contribution to the country's economy. The other sectors can be included in phases.

Director general ministry of labour and employment's central fund, Selina Akhter, said that the central fund had an insurance section for the readymade garment factories. A working group can be formed to look into what has been done so far and what is to be done.

President of the Bangladesh Diabetic Association, national professor AK Azad Khan, said that if a social health insurance management unit was formed, it must be kept outside of the government's tax coverage.

Highlighting experience in insurance work at nine upazilas of Tangail, director (research) of the health economics unit, Md Nurul Amin, said that work had progressed there amid various challenges and limitations. There were plans to expand this to Dhaka shortly, he said.

It had been possible to provide the RMG workers with good service under the pilot project, said development organisation SNV Bangladesh's RMG Inclusive Business Programme team leader Farhtheeba Rahat Khan. She said, while the RNG workers were concerned about the health of their families and children, they neglected their own health due to financial reasons.

Professor Nasrin Sultana, director of the Institute of Health Economics, said even if on a short term, it was necessary to start up health insurance.

Vice president of BKMEA Mohammad Hatem and chairman BGMEA's labour affairs committee ANM Saifuddin, highlighted the need for further discussion on insurance and the need to gain people's trust in this regard.

Managing director of Progoti Life Insurance and CEO, M Jalalul Azim, said that insurance for the workers would require a specific framework. Compliance manager of Auchan Retail International in South Asia, Saiful Alam Mullick, said if work on SHIMU is started now, a structure can be ready within two years.

President of Bangladesh Garments Sramik League, Sirajul Islam, said that if insurance is introduced, the workers are ready to pay the regular premium.

Director of Gonoshasthaya Kendra's health insurance project, Rezaul Huq, said if health insurance is to be introduced, it should be brought under national regulations.

Director of BRAC's climate change programme and urban development programme, Liakat Ali, said there should be a separate policy regarding insurance for workers.

Prothom Alo's associate editor Abdul Quayum presented the opening statement at the event. The virtual roundtable was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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