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The Financial Express

Prioritising health sector in the budget

Published: June 04, 2020 21:25:15


Prioritising health sector in the budget

With the covid-19 pandemic creating an unprecedented health crisis worldwide, the year 2020 has begun with a new, heightened level of concern about the present healthcare system's ability to protect the public, especially from new kinds of infectious diseases. In a densely populated country, with over 30 per cent of the population (some 53.64 million) falling within the poverty category, the importance of an affordable healthcare system for the common people cannot be overemphasised. And the issue assumes still greater prominence when unexpected health emergencies like the present one arises. Now that the onslaught of the pandemic has exposed many fault lines of our existing healthcare system, for example, its inadequacy to meet the sudden peak in the demand for health service by a large number of service-seekers at a time, it is time the policymakers in the government considered health as a vital sector of the economy in fiscal terms.

Looking at the size of the fund allocations traditionally made for the health sector in the national budgets in every past financial year, which in most cases were around 2.0 per cent of the GDP, it is not surprising that it cannot respond properly to contingencies of the kind facing the nation at the moment. Some experts in the fields of economic and social sciences at a recent online seminar (webinar) again turned the spotlight on the state of healthcare in Bangladesh and made a strong case for substantial increase in fiscal 2020-21's fund allocation for the sector. And in consideration of the fact that during  the recent lockdowns to contain the pandemic between the months of March and May, an average family has  lost, as revealed at the webinar, about 74 per cent  of its income, the issue of a stronger role of the government to  reach the vital healthcare service to these people gained renewed importance.

Small wonder that with the present healthcare infrastructure as well as the delivery system where the country has only 3.05 doctors and 1.07 nurses per 10 thousand people, the nation has been fighting an uneven war with a public health threat of disproportionate magnitude. Under the circumstances, the only answer to such health crises, according to international health experts and scientists, would be to multiply public investment in the health sector.  Clearly, the present case of a heightened attention to the health sector should not be looked upon as a one-off issue. On the contrary, its importance in the economy will only increase with the passage of time. Even globally, this sector is poised to emerge as a new industry drawing fresh spurt of both public and private investment combined with technological innovations.

Due to the havoc the pandemic has been causing here as elsewhere, it should have helped bring a transformative change in the government's outlook about the health sector. No longer shall it be a casualty of 'competing' concerns. For, it is clear to everyone how a risk to public health can have a telling effect on an entire economy. This new realization of an old issue should serve to reawaken the policymakers to the paramount need for adequate budget allocations to the health sector. And the practice should start now, from the upcoming fiscal FY 2020-21.

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