For the next fiscal year, Finance Minister AMA Muhith has allocated Tk23,383 crore for health and Tk53,504 crore for education
The shares of the national budget allocated to health and education in Bangladesh are shrinking and are now among the lowest in South Asia, despite pledges made by the government in its most recent five-year plan.
For the next fiscal year, Finance Minister AMA Muhith has allocated Tk23,383 crore for health and Tk53,504 crore for education.
Although both allocations have increased in size, as a proportion of the total budget and of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) they have either been frozen, or have declined.
According to a United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific survey published on May 7, the share of GDP given to health in Bangladesh has fallen from 1.1% in 2010 to 0.8% in 2017, and is now the lowest among 21 countries of south, southwest and southeast Asia.
To fund education, Bangladesh spends only 2% of its GDP - the second lowest share among the countries surveyed. In contrast, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal all spend nearly 5% of their GDP on education.
This is despite Bangladesh having committed itself to spending at least 6% of its GDP or 20% of the national budget on education, in the Dakar declaration signed in Senegal in April 2000.
The budget allocation for the sector in FY19 is Tk53,504 crore, up from Tk46,757 crore in the revised budget for FY18.
Although this has been frozen at 2.09% of GDP, the allocation given to education as a proportion of the total budget has dropped, to 11.4% from 12.6% in the current FY.
Both the shares of GDP and total budget remain below standards set by the 7FYP and Education 2030 Framework for Action of Unesco.
The 7FYP targeted to spend 2.84% of total GDP on education, while Unesco’s Education 2030 Framework for Action recommended spending at least 4-6% of the GDP
“The most worrying thing is that the lion’s share of the allocation goes to pay the salaries and incentives of the teachers, whereas the investment in improving infrastructure and allocation for research remains insignificant,” Dr M Saiful Islam, associate professor of Dhaka University’s development studies department, said.
“Bangladesh has made significant progress in ensuring access to education (while) gender equality in enrollment has also been ensured. However, (school) dropouts, particularly among the female students, and setting the priority to what should be the right kind of education for Bangladesh remains a concern.”
Saiful said the Bangladesh government must plan, finance and promote the education sector in a way that will ensure job-oriented, skilled and demand-driven job opportunities for the students.
“Turning the huge number of youths in Bangladesh into truly a population dividend, the government must take the challenge to set the right kind of education, which should be technical and skill-oriented at this moment,” he said.
“The government must also increase the allocation in education to ensure quality by recruiting qualified teachers, retaining them by providing incentives and ensuring better infrastructural facilities and resources.”
According to the Healthcare Access and Quality Index published by leading British medical journal The Lancet in May, Bangladesh ranks 133rd out of 195 countries worldwide in providing access to quality healthcare, ahead of regional neighbours India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan.
However, even though the Seventh Five-Year Plan (7FYP) aimed to spend 1.04% of the GDP on the health sector in the FY19 budget, the sector was allocated only 0.92% of the GDP.
Bangladesh’s share for the health sector is declining at a time when it needs proportionately more funds to attain the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ensuring healthy lives and promoting individual wellbeing.
“The allocation is not enough to achieve the SDGs,” the former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Prof Dr Kamrul Hasan Khan, said.
“WHO recommends allocating at least 5% of a country’s GDP and 15% of the total budget for the health sector. Bangladesh Medical Association has been demanding a 10% share of the total budget for the sector.
“Regardless of the allocation size, the implementation is poor. The general people foot 63% of their health expenditure.”
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) noted in its analysis of the budget that in FY2016-17, two-thirds of the allocated Tk20,652 crore went unspent.
Explaining the problems in implementing the health budget and its consequences, Prof Dr Kamrul Hasan Khan pointed out that the per capita health expenditure in Bangladesh stood at just $32.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Health Minister Mohammed Nasim agreed that the health sector needed a big allocation in the budget to ensure universal health coverage and to attain the SDGs.
“Without having enough budget allocation, achieving SDGs and providing universal health coverage to the people will not be possible,” the minister added.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Dr Salehuddin Ahmed said the access to, and affordability of, healthcare services must be improved. “More allocation is needed to improve technology, equipment and medicine,” he said.