Covid-time medical equipment: Tk 30cr lost to buy a transplant
Public hospitals in the capital bought medical equipment at astronomical prices during the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, according to an audit report.
The Comptroller and Auditor General in the audit report found that the government lost at least Tk 29.94 crore out of the Tk 320.23 crore it spent at the start of the pandemic due to such irregularities in the during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The first cases of Covid were detected in the country at the beginning of March 2020.
The report was presented to parliament during the last budget session in June this year.
According to the audit report obtained recently by this newspaper, the Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital (KBFGH) in the capital Uttara purchased two ECG machines at Tk 6.25 lakh each when the market price was 1.99 lakh Tk.
Kurmitola General Hospital bought a high-flow oxygen therapy device for Tk 7.5 lakh from a supplier when its price was Tk 4.9 lakh. Mugda General Hospital bought a video laryngoscope – a device that allows indirect visualization of the vocal cords – for Tk 6.25 lakh when its price was Tk 1.99 lakh.
The report also revealed similar financial irregularities in the purchase of Medical and Surgical Equipment (MSR) and Covid-19 quarantine expenses of 15 public hospitals of medical schools and specialized health institutions in the capital.
The abyss between purchase prices and market prices was also felt in the supply of pathological drugs and accessories.
Take, for example, KBFGH’s purchase of an injection of Meropenem 1gm, a high-end antibiotic used to treat a serious infection.
At the price of 1,300 Tk, they bought 1,000 of the injections for 2,210 Tk each and 6,500 of them for 1,955 Tk each. Through this purchase of a single drug, the government lost a total of 51,675 lakh Tk, according to the report.
National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases and hospital authorities embezzled Tk 18.55 lakh by purchasing echocardiography paper and reagents at a price well above the market rate, the report adds.
It also found irregularities in the payment of quarantine bills for medical professionals at various contracted residential hotels in the city.
Mugda General Hospital authorities have signed a contract with Asia Hotel and Resort in Dhaka for Tk 2,950 per day for each of its 45 rooms.
But the hotel received an additional Tk 15.90 lakh every day between April 23 and May 17, 2020 for renting more rooms, which the hotel did not have, according to the report.
Dhaka Medical College Hospital authorities made additional payments of Tk 6 lakh to New York Hotel in Dhaka, the report added.
Discrepancies between purchase prices and market prices and anomalies in quarantine bills reflect long-standing irregularities and inability in public procurement in the health sector, experts said.
“If one of the doctors [hospital directors] really divert the money from these purchases, they must be punished. But before blaming them, a reality check is needed, as doctors are often powerless against trade unions,” said Syed Abdul Hamid, a professor at the Institute of Health Economics, University of Dhaka, recently. at the Daily Star.
He said that the existing public procurement procedure has many shortcomings that need to be reviewed.
“We have studied that many competent physicians do not want to take over healthcare organizations. Many hospital managers do not even want to spend the allocated money to avoid the hassle of auditing,” Hamid said.
He also said doctors lack skills related to public procurement. “They often fail to negotiate properly.”
When questioned, Mohammad Shahadat Hossain, Additional Secretary (Financial Management and Audit) in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, informed that he had received an additional audit objection of Tk 10 crore, in addition to the Tk 29.94 Tk crores mentioned in the 2021 audit report.
“We received responses against half of the audit objections and forwarded them to the Auditor General’s office with recommendations,” Mohammad Shahadat Hossain told the Daily Star on Wednesday.
“There is no possibility of defending anomalies. Simultaneously, we must consider that quarantine arrangements and ensuring timely medical supplies were a great challenge at the onset of the Covid-19 emergency.”