The conceptual framework of ‘a healthy nation being a wealthy one’ has received global recognition. In the past, economies strived in achieving development without much emphasis on improving its social indicators. However, as time progressed the concept of development had undergone multidimensional transitions whereby development was gradually perceived to be a socioeconomic variable with utmost preference to both economic and social improvements within the economy. The paramount significance of improving health indicators has also been acknowledged in SDG3 (Good health and well-being). Bangladesh, adhering to its remarkable performances in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) way ahead of neighbouring countries, has also expressed its willingness to do the same with regard to achieving the SDGs as well. As part of the nation’s commitment in achieving the SDGs, the current government took the agenda of healthcare development with utmost importance and has adopted relevant policies to improve the national health indicators. Although the fiscal allocations to health have shrunk in recent times, the health sector indicators of Bangladesh have portrayed significant improvements as compared to its post-independence phase.
Bangladesh over the course of its post-independence period has come a long way in stimulating healthcare development within its economy. A country which once had a huge portion of its population being malnourished has somewhat reversed the scenario at present. The life expectancy at birth has surged by more than 53% over the last 45 years revealing remarkable development in healthcare facilities over time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Bangladesh is ahead of most of its neighbouring nations when it comes to its national life expectancy at birth. For instance, the life expectancy at birth in the country is 72 years on average where India and Pakistan have a life expectancy at birth figures of 68.5 years and 67 years respectively. Moreover, the country displayed impressive performance in safeguarding and improving maternal and infant lives. The maternal mortality rate in Bangladesh has also experienced a declining trend as the rate was curbed by more than 70% over the last 30 years. At present, maternal mortality rate in the country is estimated to be around 176 per 100,000 live births. According to the WHO, the maternal mortality ratio between 2000 and 2015 in Bangladesh dropped from 339 to 176 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births while the corresponding lifetime risk of maternal death declined from 1.49% to 0.421%. The country has also taken effective initiatives in ensuring praiseworthy infant and neonatal heath protection as reflected by sharp declines in the associated death rates. Infant mortality rate in the country has gone down by almost 75% over the last three decades or so. At present, infant mortality rate in Bangladesh hover around 31 deaths per 1000 live births as compared to India and Pakistan having corresponding rates of 38 and 66 per 1000 live births respectively. The current neonatal death rate in Bangladesh, according to UNICEF, is around 23 deaths per 1000 live births which is 50% and 17.86% less compared to that in Pakistan and India respectively. Furthermore, loss of lives due to communicable diseases and maternal, prenatal and nutrition conditions has also reduced in the country by more than 33% in between 2000 and 2012.
Despite such progresses made in the fields of health and nutrition in Bangladesh, the country is yet to match global standards which would have potentially aided the nation in leapfrogging into the elite list of upper middle income countries in near future. This can partly be attributed to the inefficiencies attached to the heal sector of the country and also to the reduction in fiscal allocations aimed at development of this sector.
Thus, in order to achieve the SDG3 and also to comply with the commitments of the current government for ensuring improved quality and access to healthcare facilities in the country, it is high time to get over the existing inefficiencies and irregularities engulfing the health care sector of Bangladesh. It is ideal for the government in leaving no stones unturned in ensuring greater access to safe drinking water, sanitation and nutritional commodities for betterment of public health in the country. Moreover, the disparity in the urban and rural health services on offer should also be mitigated in order to enhance the overall health standards.
Muntasir Murshed, MS in Economics, School of Business and Economics, North South University