Analysing the mismanagement in the COVID-19 vaccination programme nationwide, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has recommended that the government prepare a definite action plan that can ensure vaccination of at least 80 per cent of the population within an actual timeframe.
In a virtual press briefing on June 8, 2021, TIB has recommended the above along with other 19 recommendations after releasing the research report titled ‘Tackling Corona Virus Pandemic: Governance Challenges in COVID-19 Vaccine Management’, where researchers looked into the factors involving the rule of law, response, efficiency and effectiveness, participation and coordination, transparency and accountability.
The third phase of the research on the COVID-19 pandemic analysed the progress, impact and challenges faced in the vaccination programme, started nationwide from February 7, 2021.
The report has pointed out that the involvement of a third party in the vaccine procurement process has forced the government to buy the vaccines at an inflated price of 5 dollars per dose, which is more than double what the European Union member countries paid.
The additional amount paid to the third party, amounting to Taka 231 crore, could have been used to buy 68 lakh more vaccine doses. Furthermore, there has been a violation of the law as one of the representatives of the tripartite agreement between Serum Institute, Beximco and the Government of Bangladesh is a ruling party parliamentarian and an advisor to the Prime Minister, which goes against The Representation of the People Order, 1971 [Article 12 (A)] that states anyone having business relations with the government cannot be lawmakers.
Regarding such irregularities, TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said in the press meet, “The irregularities and corruption that were seen in the health sector since the start of the Corona infection persists. The government procurement rules have been violated, there is information on how there were illicit dealings in the emergency medical professionals’ hiring process and the government had to face loss of crores of Taka as temporary hospitals were built and closed without determining their utility.”
In addition, TIB has identified that there is no definite roadmap in terms of vaccine collection and inoculation for the countrymen. The absence of farsighted planning and the lack of buffer doses have also jeopardised the chance of getting second doses for more than 13 lakh people.
On the other hand, a lack of planning in terms of infection control has also been observed. The new strain of the virus had entered the country due to mismanagement in tests and quarantine in the entry points. There has also been a lack of effort in changing people's behaviour regarding health rules and regulations. As a result, there was a 26.6% infection rate and 24.2% death rate in March and April of 2021.
The research demonstrated that the demand for vaccines was not determined or analysed before distributions, which resulted in acute shortages in some areas and oversupply in others. Additionally, as expatriate workers were not brought under the vaccination programme according to demand in due time, workers had to spend an additional 60-70 thousand Taka for quarantine in their destination countries.
Besides, very few people from financially disadvantaged communities have been incorporated into the vaccination programme.
Criticising the vaccination programme, Dr. Zaman added, “The absence of coordination and specific work-plan, mismanagement has been widespread in the vaccination programme. There has been discrimination in terms of area, class, sex and occupation as the vaccination registration and management processes were not user friendly for the underprivileged persons. This is further impacting the nationwide inoculation programme.”
Moreover, obstacles for information dissemination persisted throughout the pandemic, and the efforts to control information have been intensified. The research has determined that 247 journalists were either attacked or tortured in 2020, while cases have been filed against 85 journalists under the Digital Security Act.
Dr. Zaman said, “The government was a hundred times more active in covering up information on corruption rather than curbing corruption itself. This is a suicidal stance, and the government must step away from it.”
Alongside recommending a definitive roadmap for efficient vaccination, TIB has also suggested allowing local companies to procure vaccines through open competition and has urged the government to take action against irregularities and corruption based on complaints from the citizens.
This research collected qualitative and quantitative data both directly and indirectly from February 7 to May 31, 2021. Researchers interviewed 1,387 people in exit polls conducted in 59 vaccination centres in 43 districts, and data were also collected from 317 organisations classified in the 12 priority sectors.