Dr Samanta Lal Sen, a physician for five decades whom Sheikh Hasina recently picked as her health minister, has singled out corruption as the main barrier he is facing in his new role.
Dr Sen joined bdnews24.com’s Inside-Out to discuss the state of Bangladesh’s health sector and his plans for its future.
The video of the programme is available on the Facebook page and YouTube channel of the news publisher.
The current health administration has received a lot of complaints about corruption and mismanagement despite the advances made in the past few years.
The current health administration has faced numerous allegations of corruption and mismanagement, despite significant progress made in recent years.
When questioned about the primary challenges he aims to address in his new role, Dr Sen acknowledged that corruption is a global issue, not confined solely to his or any other ministries in Bangladesh.
According to him, eradicating corruption entirely may not be feasible, but with collective support, it is possible to significantly reduce its prevalence within his ministry.
He suggested that his approach will be to methodically understand the mechanisms of corruption and to devise strategies to combat it.
“I have joined very recently. I have not explored anything till now. I will look into how corruption is going on. And I will go very slowly to find out how to stop this corruption,” the health minister said.
“One thing I can tell you is that I have not done any corruption in my life. So, I will not tolerate any corruption. I'll definitely try to stop this corruption,” he said.
“I know it is not possible for me to do it alone. I need the support from my administration, from my doctors, from everywhere.”
Dr Sen also said his major goal will be to provide healthcare access to all Bangladeshis.
“I want to send the treatment to the rural people, to the common people, the same treatment which is in Dhaka.”
But doctors in Bangladesh do not want to work in rural settings, and Dr Sen believes a lack of security plays a major reason behind their reluctance.
He pointed to recent incidents of attacks on doctors on charges of negligence to hammer the point.
To send the doctors to the rural areas, he wants to ensure their security first.
“If I can give security to these doctors, I am sure they will go there.”
Dr Sen recalled how surprised he was after getting the cabinet secretary’s call confirming his appointment as the health minister although he is not involved in politics and thus did not run in the recent parliamentary polls.
“So when I got the telephone call from our cabinet secretary and he congratulated me, telling me that the honorable prime minister has selected my name, I could not believe it.”
He had initially dismissed it as a prank call.
The physician is a household name in Bangladesh for his role in the burns unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital and then as the coordinator of the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery amid a spate of arson attacks and major fire incidents.
He was working as the coordinator of the national burns institutes at the time of his appointment to lead the health ministry.
Pro Sen played a key role in running the burns unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital after the unit’s establishment in 1986 under plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Shahidullah’s tutelage.
Born in Habiganj in November 1949, he received his MBBS degree from Chattogram Medical College in 1949. He studied overseas to gain higher degrees in surgery.
The Bangla Academy honoured him with a fellowship in 2018 for his contribution to medical services.
He is also President of the Society of Plastic Surgeons of Bangladesh.