Reining in the ravages of the pandemic would be the most important task to bring the economy to life this year. So, a large chunk of the health budget should be channelled to the prevention and control of the disease.
A planning is needed to determine where to spend the Tk10,000 crore set aside as the lump sum amount to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Preventive measures should be the highest priority.
Ahead of deciding the money to be allocated for the sector, the health ministry and the Directorate General of Health Services should do an elaborate exercise – research and discussion with public health experts – to find out where to spend and how to spend to optimise the health benefits.
But that never happens. What they do is slightly increase the funds to be available for different segments. At the end, what they spend, especially on training within the nation and outside and the equipment purchase, turns out, in most instances, to be a waste of money.
This year, the health budget has been significantly increased. When the nation is struck hard by the coronavirus, value for every penny is the prime factor to consider.
The virus transmission has already progressed to the community level when the shutdown was relaxed. Though done on a limited scale, the testing mechanism has shed light on a rising number of infected cases in some areas and districts than others, which prompted the government to rethink the lockdown strategy.
A plan is on to divide the nation in dangerous red zones, safe green zones, and yellow zones with comparatively less severe infections than the red zones.
If there are, for example, 1,000 clusters labelled as red zones, as many numbers of teams should be deployed in these zones that will comprise doctors, nurses, health technologists and volunteers. They will collect samples, conduct the testing, ensure isolation of the infected through strict surveillance and deliver food to those who need it while staying at home.
Gradually, the infection rate will come down, turning the areas into green zones. By that time, some other areas may emerge as red zones. If we want to reduce the virus transmission, say in three months, these teams will move around the country and serve the communities to make that possible.
The second priority should be curative treatment for Covid-19. If we commit to ensuring that no one will die of the disease after six months, we should put in place a mechanism to identify an infected person as soon as he has contracted the virus.
The country lacks critical care specialists, which is why installing intensive care units and ventilators would be nothing but a waste of resources.
However, the Tk100 crore allocation for research is a very good move. Now is the time to spend this money on research to find out the nature of the coronavirus and understand how to manage the disease.
If money is spent on quality research, the health system will witness positive changes.
Be-Nazir Ahmed is the former national consultant at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS)