The health minister and the spokesperson of the DGHS have been speaking regularly from their offices and in TV talk shows. However, despite that, they failed to convey their messages to the people of the country properly.
Zahid Maleque called a press conference to talk about the vaccines on 7 July at 12.00pm.
The journalists thronged at the conference room of the ministry before the scheduled time to get the remarks of the minister regarding the corruption in the ministry, his reaction to different MP’s comments about him and the chaos created by the sudden transfers of 1,251 physicians. But the press conference was canceled at the last moment.
However, to make their point, the health directorate published a public notice titled “earnest appeal” to encourage the people to abide by the health guidelines strictly. The notice said the coronavirus situation in the country is grim. The holy festival of Eid-ul-Azha is also nearing.
It urged the people to abide by the restrictions to contain the transmission of coronavirus and subsequent deaths and encourage their families and neighbours to follow the government instructions too.
It also warned that if the number of coronavirus patients continues to grow at this pace, the health system would become incapable of providing health services to the exponentially increasing number of patients.
The ministry deserves thanks for such advice and cautioning. But most of the content of the notice contained inconsistent data and statements.
More than 10 national dailies ran this lengthy notice on Friday. Last year too, the DGHS published a similar notice when allegations of irregularities in the procurement were brought about against them.
In a similar notice, they even defended themselves regarding the harassment and six-hour confinement of Prothom Alo’s senior correspondent Rozina Islam at the secretariat.
Regarding the DGHS notice published on Friday, Iftekharuzzaman, the executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), told Prothom Alo that this was a manifestation of the weakness of the DGHS top officials.
They are suffering from a crisis of confidence and have resorted to arrogance. After urging the people to be strict in preventing the spread of coronavirus, they defended themselves by criticising eminent persons of the country and leaders of the opposition parties. This is deception. Such an approach to shut their critics up will boomerang.
What is the actual price per dose?
The notice said so far the government has procured 10.15 million coronavirus vaccines. They procured the vaccines at a rate of Tk 3,000 per dose. As of now, a total of Tk 30.45 billion has been spent for the procurement of the coronavirus vaccine.
The DGHS has purchased a total of 7 million vaccines from Serum Institute in India. Speaking to the media, the health minister once said the price of each dose of vaccine is 5 US dollars, is Tk 425. According to that Bangladesh has spent a total of Tk 2.98 billion to procure the vaccine from Serum Institute.
Apart from Serum Institute, Bangladesh has procured a total of 3.15 million doses from alternative sources according to the government account. A total of Tk 27.47 billion has been spent for that and the price of each dose of vaccine was Tk 8,722. It means that Bangladesh has procured each dose of vaccine at a rate of 102 US dollars.
Apart from Serum, Bangladesh has purchased vaccines from China. Besides, the country has also got vaccines from the COVAX initiative. Bangladesh also got vaccines from China and India as gifts.
Before the vaccine procurement agreement with China was finalised, a government official inadvertently disclosed that Tk 850 (US dollar 10) will have to be paid for each shot. Later, the government didn’t reveal what price was paid for the Chinese vaccine.
On the other hand, Bangladesh received the Covid-19 jabs from COVAX facility without paying a penny.
Professor of Health Economics Institute of Dhaka University Syed Abdul Hamid told Prothom Alo that “It is a matter concerning the ministry, but I wonder why the vaccine was costlier. The ministry should clarify the issue of the vaccine price.”
Did government purchase mask?
As per the notice, the government didn’t spend a penny to buy masks. However, it didn’t clarify the source of the millions of masks needed for physicians, nurses, technicians and health professionals during the pandemic.
Last year, directors of both the Mugda and the Khulna Medical College Hospital first raised the allegation of graft centering mask supply.
According to a recent report in the parliamentary standing committee on the health ministry, the average price of each surgical mask under the World Bank Covid-19 project in 2019-20 fiscal has been pegged at Tk 356.96.
Tk 200,000 for each corona patient
According to the notice, the government is spending an average of Tk 20,000 per corona patient every day. A patient has to stay in the hospital for an average of 10 days. In total, the government is spending Tk 200,000 against each patient.
Neither the health ministry nor the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has ever given a breakdown of the costs. Very little medication is needed to treat a corona patient.
The cost is higher for a patient in ICU or for a patient with other diseases. But the DGHS has not yet released any statistics of normal and critical patients.
It comes as a surprise to many that the government is spending Tk 20,000 for a patient.
Why this notice
From the very beginning there has been acute lack of necessary information that people need during a pandemic.
About 1.5 million people have received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and are waiting for the second one. But the health ministry has not yet said anything about what they should do.
There are no notices with clear instructions on what students studying abroad should do to get vaccinated. There are more examples of such shortcomings.
Professor Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director of disease control at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told Prothom Alo that it was not clear why the DGHS had published this notice.
He said during a pandemic the people are informed about the risks, the government policy is highlighted, and recommendations are made on what is to be done. But during this critical time, the notice contained nothing in this regard.
On the other hand, politics was dragged into the notice by castigating the opposition party. This is unwarranted. The notice will do nothing to the improve the pandemic situation, he added.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu and NH Sajjad.