Members of Parliament thanked the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (Gavi) for announcing the continuation of funding for the national immunization program until 2030 for the purpose of accelerating the vaccination program of Bangladesh and improving the country’s public health. Besides, the MPs expressed satisfaction over the increase in the price of cigarettes in the fiscal year 2023-24 and demanded the government to pass amendments to the Tobacco Control Act at the earliest.
These issues came up in a meeting of ‘Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing (BPFHW)’ with the members of the GAVI Mission (GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance) visiting Bangladesh on Tuesday at the LD Hall of the Jatiya Sangsad.
In the meeting held under the chairmanship of the Forum Prof. Dr. Md. Habibe Millat MP, the members of Parliament discussed increasing the budget in the country’s health sector, providing vaccine technology, producing vaccines locally, solving the manpower crisis of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, increasing the tax and price of tobacco products to reduce tobacco use, and the issues of amending the Tobacco Control Act immediately to protect public health and the economy.
In the meeting, the former health minister and advisor of Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum, Dr. AFM Ruhal Haque MP said, “We have some challenges in immunization but we have to overcome various challenges to ensure a long-term national immunization programme. Bangladesh is a pro-vaccination country. I would like to thank Gavi for continuing the funding until 2030. Our strength is our Honorable Prime Minister, who is committed to protecting our public health.” Moreover, he further said, “Tobacco is a major threat to the country which harms both public health and economy. As the price of tobacco products increases, the consumption of tobacco products is expected to decrease. However, if the amendments to the Tobacco Control Act are passed quickly, the way to protect the country’s economy and public health will be smooth.
Adviser of the forum, Mr. A. S. M. Feroze MP said, “I hope we can continue the ongoing activities to protect public health. Our honorable Prime Minister is very visionary. Infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have decreased in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a success story in immunization. The partnership between the Government of Bangladesh and GAVI is very important for the immunization programme.” He further said “About 4 crore people of Bangladesh use tobacco and every year about 1 lakh 61 thousand people in the country die due to tobacco related diseases. To protect public health, we must pass tobacco law amendments as soon as possible.”
Chairman of Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum Prof. Dr. Md. Habibe Millat MP highlighted various achievements of the forum in public health protection during the meeting. Among them, 153 members of parliament’s letter to the Prime Minister demanding to ban e-cigarettes, 152 members of parliament’s letter to the health minister demanding amendment of the tobacco law, 86 members of parliament’s letter to the finance minister recommending an increase in tobacco taxes in the latest national budget, and the recommendation to extend GAVI funding to the National Immunization Program in Bangladesh is noteworthy. Prof. Dr. Md. Habibe Millat MP said, “We requested GAVI to extend the funding period for the National Immunization Program and we thank GAVI for accepting our request and extending the funding period for the National Immunization Program till 2030. Gavi is our long time friend and the success of vaccination in this country is also their achievement. We all need to work on nutrition as well as vaccination. We want to keep Gavi with us and we look forward to their support for the future. He further said, “Reasonable taxes and price hikes on tobacco would prevent around 1 million young people from taking up smoking and prevent around 1 million premature deaths. It will also generate an additional revenue of Tk 9,600 crore which is 30 percent more than the current revenue.
Paerliamentarian Mr. Ahsanul Islam (Titu) MP said, “Gavi is our long time friend. With their help, our healthcare has improved a lot in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Especially their contribution in providing Covid-19 vaccine to Bangladesh is worth remembering. If we do not take timely action, it will be difficult to ensure vaccination for all in the future.
Gavi’s Senior Country Manager, Ms. Nilgun Aydogan said, “We have been supporting Bangladesh since 2001. Our support Included coaching, technical support, covid19 vaccines support. For Covid-19 vaccine we have supported with 1 billion US dollars. HPV vaccine is going to start this year in Bangladesh. TCV and JE vaccine will also be introduced in the country. We really appreciate the parliamentarians for their advocacy support for immunization program.”
Prior to this, three separate presentations were given on the Engagement of Parliamentarians for strengtehning Immunuzation & PHC programs in Bangladesh, Financial and Programmatic Sustainability of National Immunization Programme in Bangladesh, and the current status and future plans of the National Immunization Program in Bangladesh. Executive Director of Shastho Shurokkha Foundation and Vice-Chair of Gavi CSO Steering Committee Dr. Nizam Uddin Ahmed, Senior Country Manager of Gavi Ms. Nilgan Aydogan, and Director and Line Director of Expanded Immunization Program (EPI) Dr. Md. Nizam Uddin.
Members of Parliament joined at the discussion meeting were Prof. Dr. A.F.M. Ruhal Haque MP, Mr. A.S.M. Feroz MP, Md. Aftab Uddin Sarker MP, Dr. Samil Uddin Ahmed Shimul MP, Mr. Ahasanul Islam (Titu) MP, Ms. Shirin Akhter MP, Ms. Sherin Ahmed MP, Ms. Hosne Ara MP, Ms. Monira Sultana MP, Adv. Sayeda Rubina Akter MP, Adv. Zakia Tabassum MP, Adv. Adiba Anjum Mita MP, Ms. Ratna Ahmed MP, Begum Shabnam Jahan MP, and Ms Nargis Rahman MP.Shastho Shurokkha Foundation (SSF)’s Executive Director Dr. Nizam Uddin Ahmed and Direct Prof. Dr. Md. Rafiqul Islam alsoattended the meeting. SSF is working as the secretariat of the Parliamentary Forum.
It should be noted that the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (Gavi) is one of the main donor organizations for global public health and vaccine assurance. The overall support of the organization contributes to the availability of vaccines in developing countries through the coordination of government, private organizations and CSOs. Since 2001, GAVI has been the largest funder of child immunization programs and health care development in Bangladesh. GAVI funding for Bangladesh’s immunization program was scheduled to end in 2026, but was extended to 2029 at the request of the Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing. Gavi confirmed the funding deadline extension in a letter sent to the forum in January. On the other hand, Bangladesh ranks eighth among 148 countries in terms of the highest number of smokers. Moreover, Bangladesh faces an economic loss of about 30 thousand 560 crores every year due to tobacco. Amendment of the Tobacco Control Act is essential to address this menace.