Mahfuz Emran: Members of the opposition have lambasted Health Minister Zahid Maleque in parliament, going so far as to call for his resignation, over the oxygen crisis during the coronavirus pandemic and irregularities in the health sector.
Though the health minister was away from the parliament session, opposition MPs targeted him for heavy criticism yesterday.
“Bogura is a COVID hotspot,” said Bogura-6 MP and BNP member Gulam Mohammad Siraj. “There have been 24 deaths in the past three days. The reason for these deaths is a lack of high-flow nasal cannulas to supply high levels of oxygen. The health minister is not here today. It would have been better if he was.”
He called for Bogura to be sent 20 high-flow nasal cannulas and given a constant supply of oxygen.
The health minister had come under fire on Jun 30, denying allegations of corruption in the health sector.
“We discussed masks that day,” said Pirojpur-3 MP Rustum Ali Faraji of the Jatiya Party. “That day the minister did not answer me directly. I asked why masks that cost Tk 4 were bought for Tk 356. He must investigate the issue and take action. That is the minister’s responsibility.”
“He tried to evade the question, claiming the assertion was false. I have brought evidence. It was discussed by the parliamentary committee on the health ministry. The ACC is aware. The media reported it. A PD [project director] admitted it, saying he wasn’t there at the time. What is he to do? The health minister should have ordered an investigation instead of avoiding it. He has to take action.”
“It is unfortunate,” said Kazi Firoz Rashid, the Dhaka-6 MP from the Jatiya Party. “Seven COVID patients died at a Satkhira hospital in one hour due to lack of oxygen. That area was the constituency of Ruhal Haque, a former health minister. There should be a five-star hospital in the area. I don’t understand how it is acceptable to let a patient die due to lack of oxygen. When he was minister, couldn’t he even look after his own district?”
“Even if you can’t supply oxygen through a central network, you can do it manually. You can keep someone alive using an oxygen cylinder manually. But you aren’t able to. Can’t you check what the nurses, ward boys and doctors are doing? We admit patients to the ICU, but no one checks up on them. Most of the patients there die from lack of oxygen. They say the patient’s situation is critical and they are ventilating them. Then, an hour later, we hear they have died. They don’t get any treatment.”
“We haven’t received any reports from the investigative committee. People are dying all over the world. Can we accept these irregularities? Hospitals don’t have oxygen, high-flow cannulas, Bogura hospitals don’t have oxygen. When asked, the health ministry says they are sending equipment, but we don’t see it anywhere. We’ve wasted a year in this manner. In a year we could have made our hospitals well equipped. If they had given us MPs the responsibility, we could have done it.”
Kishoreganj-3 Jatiya Party MP Md Mujibul Haque, known by his nickname Chunnu, said: “Two days ago, the health minister came to parliament and compared our situation to America’s. People are dying in America, while fewer people are dying here. He made it seem that it was to his credit that people in Bangladesh were not dying.”
“He said that a lot of work had been done in the past year. But today the news says that there are no oxygen facilities in 37 districts across Bangladesh. If five patients are receiving oxygen at a hospital, then 20 are waiting in line. They are dying simply because there is no access to oxygen. The media says that the health minister has inspected hospitals and seen the situation for himself. What is he doing? All he does is attend Zoom meetings.”
Chunnu raised the issue of the recent resignations of health ministers from New Zealand and the UK.
“The UK health minister has had to resign after a kiss while caught up in the heat of the moment. Is our health minister human? I can’t say for sure. He has no sense of shame. He must resign.”
Chapainawabganj-3 BNP MP Md Harunur Rashid also took aim at the minister.
“He said ‘[MPs] are also hospital chairmen’. But we need machines and manpower, which is your responsibility.”
“His comments make it seem as if MPs are neglecting their duties. It is offensive. The health minister has insulted all of parliament. His comments should be expunged.”
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