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Cut out-of-pocket health cost, speakers tell pre-budget dialogue

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Health sector allocations in the national budget must aim to reduce the share of out-of-pocket expenditure in the total health expenditure, said speakers at a pre-budget dialogue on Monday.

Highlighting the necessity to move beyond 'business as usual' allocations for the health sector, they pointed out that out-of-pocket expenditure constitutes 68 per cent of the total health expenditure of the country.

Bangladesh Health Watch, Brac James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University and Unnayan Shamannay jointly organised the dialogue, titled 'Pre-Budget National Dialogue on Health Sector', at a city auditorium.

According to a keynote presented at the dialogue, "The government bears only 23 per cent of the total health expenditure while 9 per cent comes from other sources."

Unnayan Shamannay Chair and former governor of Bangladesh Bank Professor Dr Atiur Rahman presented the keynote paper. The paper was developed based on data from the government's Finance Division and the findings from a recent field survey.

In his paper, Dr Rahman pointed out that the share of the out-of-pocket cost could be brought down to 51 per cent from 68 per cent by tripling the allocations for the medical and surgical supply sub-sector of the health budget and by filling up all the vacancies at the upazila health complexes, union health sub-centres and community clinics.

He said the policymakers should focus on revamping the entire health sector in order to ensure access to quality healthcare - going beyond just increasing allocations.

Lawmakers Habibe Millat, Rumeen Farhana and Shamim Haidar Patwary also joined the subsequent discussion, while Dhaka University Professor Dr Syed Abdul Hamid was present as an expert discussant.

Habibe Millat said the health sector should have a medium- to long-term plan, like the five-year plan of the government.

He underscored the need for introducing a universal healthcare system for the people.

Rumeen Farhana also suggested initiating the universal healthcare scheme like that of Bhutan and India.

She said the government was focusing on infrastructural projects only, neglecting people's wellbeing through improvement of the health and education sectors.

Shamim Haider Patwary said the government should build partnerships with the private sector healthcare providers, in order to ensure quality healthcare for all.

DU Professor Dr Rumana Haque, who is also the Chair of the thematic group of Bangladesh Health watch, was moderator of the event.

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