The failure to spend single taka allocated in the budget for research purposes proves that despite the dilapidated condition of health sector revealed by the Covid outbreak, the health authorities have still not come to their senses. There have been a large scale irregularities in corona testing, procuring equipment and staff recruitment.
Prothom Alo reported on Monday that for long there had been only nominal allocation in the health sector. However, during the corona pandemic, this issue came to the fore and there were demands from various quarters to increase this allocation. In the current 2020-21 fiscal, one billion taka has been allocated for a project, 'Integrated Health Science Research and Development Fund'. But even after 10 months of the financial year, the concerned officials could not even finalise the research guidelines. As a result, the allocated money is lying idle. Finalising the guidelines or spending the allocated money hardly likely to happen in the remaining two months of the fiscal.
The ministry of finance and the ministry of health are now blaming each other for not being able to spend the money. The finance ministry alleges that the health ministry took more than four months to issue the fund guidelines even after the prime minister's approval. On the other hand, the health education division said that it took the finance ministry five months to draft the guidelines. Whether systematic or technical, the problem could have been solved by discussions. But the officials in charge of the two ministries did not pay attention to the issue.
According to Prothom Alo, the finance division submitted a summary to the prime minister in November 2020 for approval of the guidelines for activities of the Integrated Health-Science Research and Development Fund. The PM signed it on 3 December. The budget department of the finance division then sent a letter to the secretary of health education and family welfare on 9 December requesting for the guidelines to be enforced. The Department of Health Education and Family Welfare issued the guidelines last week with some adjustments.
A nine-member committee has been formed with professor of internal medicine at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) , Mujibur Rahman, as chairman for the selection of research proposals. The committee will call for applications twice a year with a notification in the newspaper and send the list to the 11-member national committee after selection on the basis of majority opinion. Kazi Deen Mohammad, director of the National Institute of Neurosciences and Hospital, is the chairman of the national committee.
The secretary general of the Bangladesh Medical Association has blamed bureaucracy for not spending the research money. But is the bureaucracy an independent organisation? The political leadership that runs the bureaucracy cannot avoid responsibility either. Just as there are top government officials in the two ministries, there are also ministers. So the bureaucrats alone will not be held responsible. Although one billion taka was allocated for research work in the current financial year, it could not be spent. If the money is not spent, then what is the benefit of allocating it? Budget makers are interested in big projects more than research.
But this time, it was seen that even after allocating enough money for research, no research work was done. Who is responsible for this? Are they above accountability? Our own research can be beneficial in many ways in tackling the pandemic. Experts are repeatedly urging for research to be conducted in this regard. It is possible to take effective measures to control the infection through genome sequencing or gene analysis of the coronavirus. This has been proven in several countries, including Australia and New Zealand. We must also take up such initiative through research.