The Department for National Registration is overwhelmed by the sudden increase in applications for national identity (ID) cards, ahead of the universal health insurance scheme which begins on January 1.
To be eligible for the “Aasandha” scheme which provides government-sponsored coverage up to Rf100, 000 (US$6,500) per year, a person must hold a valid ID.
The department typically experiences a rise in traffic during this time of year as Maldivians take advantage of the annual holiday (October to December) to make trips from islands to take care of necessary business and annual shopping in Male’.
Many are now rushing to the national registration office to renew expired ID cards or apply for new ones.
Assistant Director Abdullah Haleem is in charge of ID card operations at the department, and spoke to Minivan News regarding the matter.
“Since Sunday a lot of people have been coming in. It is very difficult to cater to the increased number of applicants because we lack resources and staff,” he said.
“It is difficult to estimate how many people are coming in. Everyday we are releasing 250 token for applicants. Many who queue up have to leave because they don’t get the token. Sometimes within an hour all tokens are over,” Haleem explained.
Minivan reporters observed that the office was crowded with men, women and children- as all chairs were taken, some stood desperately staring at the board displaying their token numbers.
A father waiting in the queue with his five year old daughter complained about the long hours of waiting, but he said it is “worth it” because his daughter would get free heath care once he had received the ID card.
Haleem also noted that it is mostly parents coming in this week to make ID cards for their children. In order to ease their burden, he said the office has decided to release additional tokens for children between 3:00pm and 4:00pm from Tuesday onward.
The office is usually open from 8:00am to 4:30. However, a staff member noted that they have to put in extra hours to meet the demand.
Meanwhile, bundles of application forms coming in from different atolls are piling up at the registration department.
“We have ID card application form collection centers in all the atolls. So those centers are sending in a lot of forms as well,” Haleem said, noting that the paperwork is “fairly simple”.
He said some applicants may not receive the card before January, however assured that the office is working hard to issue the cards as soon as possible.
The health insurance bill was submitted by Nolhivaram MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed and unanimously approved by with 72 votes on December 21, 2011. It was ceremoniously signed into law on December 22.
According to the bill, citizens receive government-sponsored coverage up to Rf100,000 (US$6,500) per year. The bill includes provisions for medical treatment abroad, and for citizens who require further financial assistance.
Expatriate workers are also eligible for coverage providing their employers pay an upfront fee of Rf1,000 (US$65).
The decision has caught the approving eye of Mexico’s government, which passed a similar bill eight years ago.
“Mexico and the Republic of Maldives are developing countries, but with our universal health insurance programs our people’s health care can be better than that of developed countries such as the United States,” read a statement.
Speaking to Minivan News at the time, President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said that the program has challenged the government “to raise the standards of medical service and continuously improve the care available in the Maldives.”
The Aa Sandha plan coincides with discussions over renovating the procedure for prescribing medications and shifting from a brand-based market to generic drugs.
In a previous article, Minivan News reported that the current system is based more on the business interests of pharmaceutical importers than on the health needs of the community.
“The drugs that are imported are the ones they want to sell, not the ones we want to prescribe,” explained Medical Director at Male’ Health Service Corporation, Dr Robert Primhak.
Chief Operating Officer at ADK Hospital and former head of the Center for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC), Ahmed Jamsheed, added that the shift would benefit people physically and financially.
“The new system would move towards generic drugs which would make it easier to monitor drug quality and standards, and bring down the price,” he said at the time.