Ganoshasthaya Kendra Founder and Trustee Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury has urged the prime minister to take steps to ease the approval procedures for private hospitals and also the rules for blood transfusion to make plasma treatment available to all.
In an open letter to Sheikh Hasina, he has called for eliminating the "discriminatory" duties on imported medical equipment and raw materials for medicines.
"I'm writing this letter as I've failed to meet you. I hope someone at the Prime Minister's Office will bring this to your attention and I'll get an acknowledgement letter. Dear prime minister, I, as a citizen, can expect that," he said at the beginning of the 15-page letter.
Nowhere in the world a patient has to take permission from the health ministry or any government office to get admitted to a hospital. Rather, it is the doctors who decide that -- be it a Covid-19 patient or a general one, he mentioned.
"… but in Bangladesh, the Directorate General of Health Services [DGHS] decides whether a Covid-19 patient will be able to get admitted to a hospital. Such instance of centralisation cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It creates scope for corruption."
Explaining why most of the private hospitals don't have DGHS approval, Zafrullah said, "In fact, the Ganoshasthaya Nagar Hospital and Ganoshasthaya Dialyses Centres too do not have DGHS approval.
"It is almost impossible to follow the rules made by the health ministry for getting approval to private hospitals, laboratories and diagnostic centres. The health ministry even fixes the number of toilets and nurses having diplomas."
Besides, every hospital needs to get separate approvals for laboratories and departments, including x-ray, dental and blood transfusion units, he pointed out.
Since 2018, the licence fees for these departments have been increased 30-50 times, reads the letter.
The registration fees for a private hospital with a laboratory and a diagnostic centre should not be more than Tk 1 lakh. "The rules for approval to hospitals need to be eased," he said.
"You [the PM] want a poverty-free and healthy Bangladesh, and want to tackle the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus. It is not possible to materialise without universal health coverage."
About duties on medical equipment, he said the price of an electronic brachytherapy for cancer treatment is around $1 million. But in addition to 1 percent import duty, 5 percent advance tax, 5 percent advance income tax and 15 percent vat have to be paid for it, which is unacceptable.
"There are discriminatory import duties on different medical equipment. Import duty on ultrasonic devices is 1 percent but it's 5 percent on cardiac monitors."
There should be only 1 percent import duty on medical equipment and no other taxes, Zafrullah said.
He called upon the health ministry to ensure that pharmaceutical companies follow the rules and regulations properly.
At the end of the letter, Zafrullah requested Hasina to work together with all the politicians in the country to overcome the present crisis.