DESPITES promises from successive governments to curb corruption in public sector, the irregularities and mismanagement continues. The public health sector was not spared, even during the COVID-19 outbreak that has so far taken 2668 lives and infected 2,07,453 people in Bangladesh, the sector has remained battered by scamming schemes. The news of forgery of COVID-19 test report is widely reported. On Sunday, as part of the drive against COVID-19 test scam, the members of Rapid Action Battalion have arrested three officials of Shahabuddin Hospital in Dhaka. The hospital, according to the RAB officials, was operating with an expired licence and deceiving patients since April about their capacity to test sample for the novel coronavirus. Earlier, the owner and executives of Regent Hospital, JKG Health Care were also arrested for the same offense. Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Commission has initiated an investigation over the allegation of distributing substandard N-95 masks for health care professionals in government officials. From the prevailing reality, it is evident that a nexus of government officials, hospital authorities and political leaders are at work making money of a public health emergency.
The extent of corruption has reached such state that the general secretary of the ruling party and the road, transport and bridges minister too has acknowledged it saying that the test scams are weakening people’s faith in COVID-19 test. Yet, the government actions against the test scam remains rather punitive, than preventive. The law enforcement agencies conduct drives and probe bodies are formed once a corruption scheme is exposed which indicates an absolute monitoring failure of all authorities concerned. Neither Shahabuddin Hospital, nor the Regent Hospital has the required authorisation from the government to provide health care services. Earlier in March, the Directorate General of Health Services went into an agreement with the Regent Hospital that it would provide COVID-19 treatment free of cost. In the case of Regent Hospital, it is alleged that the owner may have used his political clout to earn the agreement, but generally it is the ultimate expression of regulatory failure and lack of integrity of the government official in public health sector that has culminated into such form of corruption in time of a pandemic. All this while, people are paying the price.
The consequence of corruption in the public health sector is graver, it jeopardises the entire prevention mechanism. It carries the possibility of allowing a person infected with the novel corona virus to be in public and social gathering when s/he is supposed to be in isolation. It is promising that the government has taken legal actions against some scammers, but what is needed is a foolproof monitoring mechanism that will prevent any possibility of commodifying test report. At a time when inadequate testing facilities has kept many cases out of radar, the corruption in the testing process would accelerate the risk of transmission. The government must act knowing the significance of greater access to testing facility in COVID-19 prevention.
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