Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) has transfused HIV positive blood to a patient due to a technical error in the laboratory, the hospital and Ministry of Health and Gender revealed last night.
According to the hospital, the incident took place on February 3, with discovery of the error not made until February 19. The failure to reveal the incident earlier was, according to IGMH, due to a delay in receiving an internal report on the case.
Conversely, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had accused the government of covering up the incident so as not to overshadow the government’s celebrations of its first 100 days in office.
At a joint press conference held last night, IGMH Deputy CEO Dr Mohamed Habeeb and Director General at the Ministry of Health and Gender Dr Sheeza Ali apologised for the incident.
Describing it as the “saddest incident in the eighteen year history of IGMH”, Dr Habeeb sad he was sharing the news with “grief and shame” and that he “apologised to the patient, the patient’s family, and all citizens of the Maldives”.
Reassuring that the services provided at the public hospital are safe, Dr Habeeb said the hospital has “state of the art” laboratory equipment and that the incident was caused by the “negligence of an individual”.
After investigating the case it was found that the lab technician was aware that the blood was infected even at the time it was taken, continued Habeeb, adding that the technician had subsequently reported the blood to be clean.
The technician in question has been suspended and the case reported to Maldives Police Service. According to the hospital, no acts of negligence had been noticed from the technician in his previous seven years of employment.
Speaking at the press conference, Habeeb said the incident had brought some issues within the hospital to light. He assured that those issues would be addressed and all arrangements would be made to prevent any future incidents.
Just yesterday it was revealed that the hospital had been forced to suspend certain surgical procedures after it had been unable to procure the necessary safety equipment.
According to the ministry, immediate treatment has been started for the patient by the government as per WHO guidelines. As all information regarding HIV patients are held as confidential by the state – in accordance to WHO guidelines – no details of the patient or the donor were revealed.
However, local media outlet Haveeru has suggested that the patient is a Maldivian woman and also that she is pregnant.
Cover up and negligence
The MDP has promptly accused the government of a cover up, with a press release issued today accusing authorities of deliberately hiding the issue until the administration’s first hundred day celebrations were over.
“They deliberately kept the news from the public in order to show that those hundred days are not dark and terrifying days”.
The party has compared the cover-up to the murder of prisoner Evan Naseem in 2003, the fallout from which accelerate the country’s democratic reforms.
Condemning the incident, the MDP described it as as a reflection of the current status of health sector in the Maldives, accusing the government of neglecting the health affairs of the people and destroying public trust in the sector.
The party stated that blaming a single individual for the incident was a matter of concern and that the heads of the health sector had not taken responsibility. Despite repeated attempts, at the time of press Minivan News had been unable to get a response from senior figures in the Health Ministry or IGMH, including Minister of Health Dr Mariyam Shakeela.
MDP MP Mohamed ‘Shippe’ Shifaz – a member of the parliament’s government accountability committee – today said that the Health Ministry would be summoned to the committee regarding the matter.
State minister for Fuwad Gasim said the ministry was trying very hard to manage the situation and bring about necessary changes.
“Of course we are very much saddened and it shouldn’t happen..but unfortunately it has happened and we will take the necessary action regarding the people involved in it,” he said.
Fuwad also noted the importance of having medical negligence act, saying that – as there is no such law currently in force – that medical professionals should be careful.
A medical negligence bill was drafted by MP Rozaina Adam in 2011, though she today explained that the legislation is currently stalled in the Health Ministry.
“I sent it for their comments and it has been with the ministry since then. Another issue was, when it was discussed with medical professionals, they suggested that it should come with another bill related to administration and the health services bill. But that bill was drafted by the ministry,” Rozaina said.
With or without the comments of the ministry, stated Rozaina, the bill will now be sent to the parliament for discussion as soon it returns from recess.
Since the first case of HIV in 1991, 19 cases of HIV have been reported among Maldivians, while the estimations of HIV positive persons are as high as 70 – 100.
The Health Ministry has previously warned about a possible explosion of HIV/AIDS in the country, with high risk behaviour such as drug use and numerous sexual partners a concern.