Seminar on “Expectation from Government for Urban Health and Water-Sanitation” and Reception Program of Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP

Seminar on “Expectation from Government for Urban Health and Water-Sanitation” and Reception Program of Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP

On January 29, 2024, a pivotal seminar on "Expectations from the Government for Urban Health and Water-Sanitation," and a reception program for Md. Abul Kalam Azad, Member of Parliament (MP) and President of BUHN, was staged at the InterContinental Hotel in Shahbag, Dhaka, hosted by the Bangladesh Urban Health Network (BUHN). The event, scheduled from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (BST), honoring Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP, Former Principal Secretary, Government of Bangladesh; President of BUHN, as the Chief Guest and Prof. Dr. Jamaluddin Chowdhury, President, Swachip, Md. Ashadul Islam, Former Secretary, MoHFW and Dr. Khairul Islam, Regional Director, WaterAid, South Asia region, as the Special Guest. Moreover, the Guest of Honor of the program were A.F.M Alauddin Khan, Additional Secretary & Project Director of UPHCSDP-II; AKM Nurunnabi Kabir, Additional Secretary(Administration), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and Dr. Md Enamul Haque, Director General (Additional secretary)- Health Economics Unit, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The seminar was ornamented with 3 insightful presentations from A.F.M Alauddin Khan, Additional Secretary & Project Director of UPHCSDP-II; Partha Hefaz Shaikh, Director (Policy and Advocacy) from WaterAid, and Dr. Sayed Rubayet, the Country Director of Ipas Bangladesh regarding "Urban Health Scenario and its Sustainability”, “Health and Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH)" and "Improving Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Dhaka" respectively. This seminar aimed to shed light on the challenges such as inadequate primary healthcare for the urban population, poor sanitation, housing issues, lead poisoning due to rapid urbanization, and substantial gaps in child immunization and maternal healthcare in slum areas. 

The seminar commenced with a welcome speech by Dr. Md. Shamim Hayder Talukder, the CEO of Eminence, setting the tone for an evening of insightful discussions. The objectives were in precision aiming to highlight the current state and challenges of urban health, urging government assistance in advancing and enhancing the urban health system in Bangladesh, and to celebrate the reception program of Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP, facilitating national networking among urban health stakeholders.

The presentations by key figures in the field added depth to the discussions. A.F.M Alauddin Khan, Additional Secretary & Project Director of UPHCSDP-II, presented on "Urban Health Scenario and its Sustainability" emphasizing the need for constitutional supremacy, provision of basic necessities, and the role of Local Government in addressing challenges posed by rapid urbanization, particularly in slum areas. He acknowledged the difficulties in delivering urban health services and called for innovative solutions.

Partha Hefaz Shaikh, Director (Policy and Advocacy) from WaterAid, spoke on "Health and Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH)." His presentation emphasized the improvement of WASH services, and their organizational initiatives including medical waste, fecal sludge management, sanitation worker health, and antimicrobial resistance. He stressed the importance of adhering to gold standards in public toilets and providing WASH facilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Sayed Rubayet, the Country Director of Ipas Bangladesh, presented on "Improving Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Dhaka" focusing on key implementation areas for the project, utilizing the Model for Program Implementation to enhance the availability and accessibility of quality Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services. Modalities included facility readiness, capacity building for service providers, family planning service performance, and support for survivors of gender-based violence (SGBV).

The subsequent open discussion, led by Dr. Khairul Islam, Regional Director of WaterAid and Vice President of BUHN, brought together diverse perspectives. Dr. Abu Jamil Faisel, Chairman & Treasurer of Health21, highlighted the importance of coordination between the government and non-government organizations. Dr. Purabi Rani Debnath, Professor & Unit Head of the Department of Ophthalmology (Eye) at BIRDEM, emphasized the need for preventive measures in addressing eye-related problems. Manik Mahmud, Programme Specialist Innovation at a2i, stressed the importance of technological intervention in urban health and proposed showcasing significant events to encourage participation. Mr. Mohamnrad Nora Alam Siddique, Additional Secretary (Urban Development) at LGRD&Co, viewed the Urban Health Network as a knowledge platform and he discussed the transition period as the project approaches expiration, emphasizing the need for local government ownership and organization. Farzana Mannan, Joint Secretary (Water & Sanitation) at LGRD&C, called for the sharing of water and sanitation data, emphasizing the oversight of project capacity in municipalities. Dr. Mohammad Zahirul Islam, Senior Programme Officer at the Embassy of Sweden, expressed commitment to strengthening policy exchange for effective service delivery in urban health. Dr. Md Enamul Haque, Director General (Additional Secretary) at HEU, discussed gaps in the urban poor database and advocated for a shift from supply-side to demand-side financing. Md. Ashadul Islam, Former Secretary at MoHFW, expressed hope for increased efforts in urban health. Prof. Dr. Jamaluddin Chowdhury, President of Swachip, traced the origin of health sector development in Bangladesh and urged immediate action on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) due to the limited time before the expiration of SDGs in 2030.

Dr. Khairul Islam, Regional Director of WaterAid, appealed to the Chief Guest, Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP, Former Principle Secretary, Government of Bangladesh, and President of BUHN, to prioritize urban health despite various distractions. As the President of BUHN, Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP, played a pivotal role during the seminar, emphasizing the need for prompt initiation of building processes in each ward by suggesting initial renting to overcome investment and time constraints. He advised city corporations to commence work without waiting for full readiness, acknowledging potential mistakes and underscoring the urgency of action. Stressing the importance of a minimum structure and organized categories for efficient manpower allocation, he advocated for the well-being of cleaners and highlighted the significance of public toilets. Additionally, he urged the local government ministry to promptly address these concerns, encouraging both government and non-government sectors to participate in best practices and offering support for pilot programs. He also expressed his commitment to developing a reproductive health policy, intending to raise related issues in Parliament, while emphasizing the substantial work required for Universal Health Coverage (UHC). He regretted the non-implementation of the Health Protection and Social Programs (HPSP), calling for the replication of health protection programs and emphasizing the necessity to reduce high out-of-pocket expenditures for successful UHC achievement through horizontal and vertical expansion.

In conclusion, the seminar was a comprehensive and collaborative effort to address the critical issues plaguing Bangladesh's urban health system. The decisions taken during the event, such as the initiation of the building process in each ward, proactive actions by city corporations, and measures to enhance the well-being of cleaners, reflect a commitment to proactive and collective efforts. The seminar marked a significant step towards fostering collaboration and proactive initiatives for the betterment of urban health in Bangladesh. The decisions and discussions from this event are likely to have a lasting impact on the future of urban health initiatives in the country.