Rethinking development planning during a pandemic

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| Update:
May 27, 2021, 9:46 p.m.


Traditionally, budget allocations for different sectors of the economy tend to focus on growth, especially GDP growth. Over the past five years, achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also become an important consideration in the budgeting exercise.

It is time for the nation to accept the fact that it has to live with the pandemic in the longer term. As such, a balance must be struck between the needs of life and livelihoods and a set of fiscal priorities accordingly. Needless to say, throughout this exercise, health issues should necessarily take center stage.

Leading economists, health experts and government leaders at a virtual event hosted by the Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies (BIDS) on Sunday stressed the need to shed new light on these issues. They too were to treat public health issues in the midst of the pandemic with the highest priority. They considered that pandemic containment measures should be integrated into the government’s public health strategy and mobilize proportional budgetary resources for this purpose.

It goes without saying that given the economic and socio-cultural realities of the country, strict nationwide closures simply will not work. Workers, especially those who survive on their daily earnings, which number in the tens of millions, would be the worst victims of such lockdowns. Unlike developed countries, Bangladesh, with its limited resources, cannot afford to feed these people indefinitely from government coffers. So in our case, instead of applying extreme measures like confinement, the public must internalize the control measures by making changes in their lifestyle. However, this would force the government to make health safety guidelines such as wearing face masks, disinfecting hands and maintaining social distancing in offices and public places mandatory. The introduction of strict criminal measures such as fines and detention can also be considered against those who flout health security guidelines.

However, increasing the health care budget alone is not the only answer to the problem of pandemic-induced health emergencies either.

What is important is to increase the capacities of the project executing agencies under the ministry of health. In view of the experiences of past exercises, capacity building of its executing agencies should receive the greatest attention from the authorities concerned.

Another vital weapon that can empower people against the pandemic is the vaccine. Admittedly, the current vaccination program had to be interrupted due to a shortage of supplies. Under these circumstances, the government would need to redouble its efforts to procure at least the amount of vaccine – the Covishield or AstraZeneca brand – that would be needed to complete the second dose of the first vaccination campaign. Going further to safe shores then arises. And, given the rise of vaccine nationalism around the world, Bangladesh must do everything it can to purchase and produce vaccines. Most importantly, it should build its own capacity as quickly as possible to produce vaccines. In this regard, Bangladesh should speed up the production process of the vaccine brand as agreed with the help of China and Russia.

This is to ensure that Bangladesh is able to immunize a substantial proportion of its population to achieve herd immunity. Thus, strengthening the immunization program as early as possible should be the top priority of the administration at the present time.

The government would do well to integrate the realities induced by the pandemic into its development planning in order to face the intrinsic demands of the situation.


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