Opposition lawmakers in parliament have yet again hurled strongly worded criticism at Health Minister Zahid Maleque and the Ministry of Health, alleging mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis.
The lawmakers chastised Maleque and sought his resignation over the recent deaths of novel coronavirus patients in Satkhira and Bogura due to a lack of oxygen supply. He, however, was not present in parliament on Saturday – the last day of the budget session.
The health minister earlier on multiple occasions in Jatiya Sangsad faced the wrath of not only opposition MPs but also of ruling party lawmakers.
Speaking about the ongoing oxygen shortage in Bogura on a point of order, BNP lawmaker GM Siraj said, "Bogura is now a Covid-19 hotspot. Twenty-four people have died there in 48 hours due to oxygen shortage.
"Mohammad Ali Hospital, which is dedicated for Covid-19 treatment, has 250 general beds and 8 ICU (Intensive Care Unit) beds. But it only has two high flow nasal cannulas, which makes the rest of the ICU beds useless for such patients. Other hospitals are also facing an acute oxygen crisis."
Stating that all 450 beds in three hospitals of Bogura are filled to capacity, Siraj said, "There is no opportunity for new patients to get admitted there. I demand twenty high flow nasal cannulas and 24/7 oxygen supply at those hospitals."
Jatiya Party Chairman and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in parliament GM Quader said, "The health ministry is suffering from mismanagement. It has made no improvements since last year.
"I have called Health Minister Zahid Maleque six-seven times so far, but he did not pick up my calls. When his assistant picks up the phone, I ask him to inform the minister. But Maleque never calls me back."
He added that India's healthcare system is much better than ours, but Covid-19 still has devastated the nation. "If the India variant spreads throughout Bangladesh, we will have a lot more to worry about."
He continued, "I had sent a DO letter to the ministry in March 2019, informing them about some problems faced by Lalmonirhat sadar upazila's 100-bed hospital. The hospital is always filled with more than twice the number of patients than it can support.
"Against the approved position for 39 doctors, the hospital had only 16 during that time. But despite multiple requests, no additional doctors were assigned there."
GM Quader further said, "I had sent another DO letter on 26 November 2019, but there has been no progress on resolving Lalmonirhat Sadar Hospital's issues as yet.
"The facility currently has 12 doctors and 27 vacant positions. No attempts have been made to approve additional positions for maids, ward boys, and security guards either. The number of doctors has dropped from 16 in 2019 to 12 in 2021. This is the condition of our health ministry."
Citing Lalmonirhat Sadar hospital's situation as an example, the Jatiya Party lawmaker said, "The truth is, hospitals across the country are in a similar state. At Rangpur hospital, the water filtration system utilised by dialysis machines became inoperative for nearly eight months.
"This issue left 25 dialysis machines inoperative too. Local people donated Tk6 lakh together to have the filtration system fixed. Currently ten among 25 such machines are no longer working. The health ministry has taken no action in this regard despite being informed repeatedly."
He added, "Around 2-3 months ago, I had personally called the health secretary and requested that the dialysis machines be repaired at Rangpur Hospital. I have yet to see any initiative being taken in this regard."
Another Jatiya Party lawmaker, Kazi Feroz Rashid said, "Seven patients died gasping for breath at Satkhira Hospital in just one hour. When the central oxygen supply shut down, why were cylinders not provided to the patients?
"What were the nurses, ward boys and doctors doing at the time?"
He continued, "No one knows what kind of treatment the ICUs and HDUs (High Dependency Units) are providing. People are dying there due to lack of oxygen supply. No treatment is being provided there. Do people's lives have any value these days?
"A probe committee must be formed to investigate [such deaths]."
The lawmaker for Dhaka-6 constituency added, "Hospitals do not have an adequate number of hi flow nasal cannulas and necessary oxygen supply. But the health minister says everything has been provided.
"We could have utilised the last one year to improve our healthcare sector. We could have solved our oxygen supply shortage."
Chastising Zahid Maleque over his role during this crisis, Jatiya Party lawmaker Mujibul Haque Chunnu said, "The health minister compares Bangladesh with the USA, highlighting the fact that a lot less number of people are dying here than in America.
"But does he get to take all the credit? Are not the people who died in Bangladesh his responsibility? What has he achieved since last year?"
He continued, "There is no oxygen supply system in 36 districts. When hospitals provide oxygen to five people, another 20 remain in the queue. People are dying while gasping for breath just because of the oxygen shortage.
"The health minister did not even visit one hospital to understand the gravity of the situation. He only participates in Zoom meetings from his home. Where is his humanity? Does he have no shame? The minister should resign from his position."
Referring to a comment made by Zahid Maleque last Wednesday, BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said, "The health minister told us that we are the chairpersons of hospitals, and we will have to resolve the issues faced by such facilities, such as inoperative machinery and personnel shortage.
"His comment implies that no lawmakers are performing their duties. Such remarks are very objectionable. The health minister has insulted the House and his statement must be expunged."
"Ninety percent of lawmakers in this parliament are from the ruling party. So, is he implying that the ruling party lawmakers are not performing their designated duties?"
Addressing the issue of a mask scam, Jatiya Party lawmaker Rustom Ali Farazi said, "When we were discussing this matter on Wednesday, the health minister said the authorities had bought no such masks. However, a project director from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) had earlier mentioned that they had bought each surgical mask for Tk356.
"Why is the health minister avoiding the truth? It is his duty to scrutinise and investigate the matter, and then take action accordingly."