Lack of accountability causes big scale corruption in health sector

DGHS headquartersFile photo

After Directorate General of Health Services director general (DG) Abul Kalam Azad had submitted his resignation letter on Tuesday, the government on Thursday opted to remove Aminul Hasan, director of the department's hospital branch. On the same day, Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam of Dhaka Medical College Hospital was appointed as the new DG.

These are results of public criticism on the back of the health department's failure to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and allegations of big scale corruption. However, the most important question is if these steps would solve the real problem.

Allegations of irregularities, corruption and mismanagement against the DGHS are nothing new. The scale of some of these is so big that it will be right to term them scandalous. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the real picture of mismanagement and corruption at the Ministry of Health and the DGHS were laid bare.

Some of these irresponsible acts are shocking. For example, Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care, two non-governmental organisations, were allowed to conduct coronavirus tests without any inquiry about their capacity. The officers responsible say they acted 'in good faith'. These two organisations issued fake coronavirus certificates to thousands of people without testing their samples. As a result, the credibility of coronavirus testing in Bangladesh has been severely damaged, not only inside the country but also to the rest of the world. The whole health system of the country is now being questioned.

Not only those two, but the DGHS also allowed five other private organisations to conduct coronavirus tests without conducting on-site inspections and any research on their preparation and capabilities. So, the question arises -- did the the DGHS officials act 'in good faith’ or was it an example of wholesale corruption? There is a general perception in the minds of the people that without the involvement of the officials of the DGHS, such big scale corruption would not be possible.

One of the consequences of the collapse of the healthcare sector during the coronavirus pandemic is that people's confidence in the country's healthcare system has plummeted drastically. As high as 72 percent beds in the coronavirus hospitals are empty, and people are reluctant to go to the hospital for treatment if they suspect they have caught the virus. Not only has the coronavirus treatment of the common people, but also the quality of treatment of physicians and the healthcare professionals have been seriously questioned.

As many as 70 physicians have died of the disease while more than 3,000 healthcare professionals have been affected by the virus, which is just not a normal failure of our medical system. This is the result of extensive corruption in the procurement and supply of personal protective equipment, especially N-95 masks and PPEs, to physicians and healthcare professionals, who were front-line fighters, treating the coronavirus patients.

Besides, submitting unreasonable bills for providing meals for the physicians or for attending virtual meetings also raised questions. All in all, it is evident in this time of coronavirus crisis that corruption in our public health sector has become a systematic practice.

This has only been possible because of a lack of accountability. The resignation or removal of officials in the face of public criticism is not enough.

It is a must to form a completely independent and impartial investigation committee who has no ties with neither the Ministry of Health nor the DGHS.

The culprits should be handed exemplary punishment.