The fund allocated for research in the health sector lies idle due to the negligence of two ministries, Prothom Alo investigation has found.
A total of Tk 1 billion for research has been allocated in the current financial year of 2020-21.
The finance ministry has allocated the money and the health and family welfare ministry will spend it.
But the research on different matters in the health sector couldn't be done due to the negligence and lack of preparation of two relevant ministries.
After the outbreak of coronavirus, the fragile situation of health sector was bitterly criticised last year. The vulnerable picture of the health sector surfaced. Experts suggested that extended research should be carried out in this sector. Adequate budget was not allocated for the necessary research.
Afterwards the government decided to create a fund title 'Coordinated Health-Science Research and Development Fund'.
Only Tk 50 million was allocated for research in the health sector in the financial year of 2019-20. The allocation was increased to Tk 1 billion in the following year.
But the money has not been spent due to strained relations between two ministries.
Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) secretary general Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury told Prothom Alo, "This is unfortunate that the research is not carried out due to the failure of the bureaucracy."
There were many issues to conduct research on Covid-19, he added.
Finance division officials said the health ministry delayed by over four months to finalise the guideline of the fund despite the approval of the prime minister. They have no capacity to spend the money.
Medical education division officials, however, said the finance division officials took five months to draft the guideline. Besides, it has drafted the guideline without clear understanding, and complications have arisen, the medical education division officials pointed out saying they have to make the guideline afresh.
The finance division placed a summary of the guideline to conduct the activities of 'Coordinated Health-Science Research and Development Fund' to the prime minister for approval in November 2020.
The prime minister signed it on 3 December in that year.
The budget wing of the finance division sent a letter to the medical education and family welfare secretary on 9 December requesting to finalise the guideline. Since then the health division did not finalise the guideline for four months. After making some changes, the medical education and family welfare division finalised the guideline last week.
According to the guideline, there are three areas of health system-medical service, medical education and medical research. Of these, although universal health service has been ensured, Bangladesh could not reach its desired level regarding basic research on medical science and innovation capacity.
The finance division also has liability as to why Tk 1 billion allocated for research is not spent.
When this correspondent visited the office of finance division secretary Abdur Rouf Talukder on Sunday, his personal secretary Md Helal Uddin said the secretary told him (Helal) to talk to finance division joint secretary Mohammad Abu Yousuf.
Yousuf, however, declined to make any comment.
However, medical education and family welfare secretary Md Ali Noor said, "The finance division drafted the guideline. When it came to us, we had to work on it. It is true that the work has been hampered due to the coronavirus. But it will be expedited now."
According to the guideline, the diseases which are epidemic in nature have to be encouraged for research and donation to be given from the fund. Public health is in the beginning of the guideline.
Besides, there are contagious disease coronavirus, Chikungunya, Ebola virus, zika virus and other viruses under the medical science. Research can be done on non-communicable diseases like diabetics, hypertension, cardiology, neurology, autism and metal disorder, trauma and injury.
Teacher at Health Economics Institute of Dhaka University, Syed Abdul Hamid, said, "It is surprising that the health economics is not included for research. It seems those who made the guideline are not aware of the importance of health economics."
Welcoming the initiative for creation of a fund for, Syed Abdul Hamid said, "The financial year is nearing to an end. Hope the same allocation will be made in the next budget. Now it is necessary to establish a permanent office to use the fund properly. For that a national health commission has to be formed."
Medical education division secretary Md Ali Noor said research can be conducted on health economics although it is not in the guideline.
He also said the guideline can be changed if necessary.
Researchers or research organisations will be selected through competition. The applicant must be Bangladeshi and the research has to be carried out in Bangladesh. The applicants have to be post-graduate physicians, public health experts, microbiologists, virologists, biochemists, nutritionists, or researchers.
In case of an organisation, it has to be registered with the authorities concerned. The government, non-government or autonomous organisations will be able to apply. In that case, the applicant has to submit a bond that he or she has not taken any financial assistance from any local and foreign organisations. The maximum age of the applicant would be 60 years. The age-limit can be eased considering skill, experience and reputation. An applicant can submit two research proposals.
A nine-member committee led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) internal medicine department professor Md Mujibur Rahman has been constituted.
This committee will seek application by publishing advertisement twice in the newspaper.
After selection on the basis of opinions of the majority, the list will be sent to the 11-member national committee.
National Institute of Neuroscience and Hospital director Quazi Deen Mohammed is the president of the national committee.
The national committee will give opinions within 30 days and selected persons and organisations will be informed within seven days.
The work of research will have to be finished within two years. The donation will be given in three installments.
Quazi Deen Mohammed said, "It is delayed. In fact all the physicians are busy due to coronavirus. We have arranged two meetings. Another meeting will be held next week. Afterwards it would be possible to go ahead.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.