Dengue task force to hand control to Health Ministry as outbreak calms

The Ministry of Health is expected to once again take the reins of the national response to a dengue fever outbreak linked to the deaths of eight Maldivians this year, after last week handing control of the focus to a task force appointed to bring island management of the disease under a single body.

A spokesperson for the task force, which has attempted to combine the efforts of the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), government ministries and NGOs, said the body expected its work to be “wound down” today, with the Ministry of Health once again taking control of efforts after infection rates were said to have fallen.

The task force had initially been budgeted to operate from within the social centre at Maafanu School in Male’ for seven days. However, despite initial optimism that the outbreak – which has been labelled by the government as an “epidemic” – would be under control in this time, doubts arose later during last week about the likelihood of meeting such a deadline.

Speaking to Minivan News today, a media spokesperson for the task force said it once again expected management of the virus outbreak to revert back to the Health Ministry, after having itself overcome a number of difficulties allegedly including collaborating with recently established local councils.

“We are seeing the number of confirmed cases dropping once again and I expect we will be winding up our work today,” the spokesperson added. The spokesperson claimed that Male’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) was itself now returning to normal operations after adapting several wards and surgeries specifically to coping with dengue during the outbreak.

On Thursday (July 7), several Male’-based hospitals including IGMH said that although they were busy continuing to deal with a significant numbers of patients suspected of contracting the virus, the situation was said to be under “control” by some senior management staff.

Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer, who has spoken on behalf of the taskforce created by President Mohamed Nasheed to combat the outbreak, said he was “glad to say the situation is under control and we are winding up our work and will transfer it to the Health Ministry.”
During its work the taskforce had identified several factors that contributed to the difficulty of managing dengue outbreaks, he noted.
“Number one is a lack of proper communication between the Health Ministry and local councils,” he said. “The second was that they did not have the capacity to resolve the issues.”
“Councillors on some islands thought it was not in their mandate to follow the requests of the task force,” he added. “The MNDF and local authorities had to intervene, and the councillors realised it was a matter of national safety.”

Government view

In addressing the work undertaken as part of a collaborative approach to disease control , Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair claimed that the initiative’s work in identifying and focusing on regional and island prevention measures would ensure the government was better prepared in the future for similar outbreaks.

“The government’s main focus has remained targeting mosquito breeding grounds, particularly areas such lakes and stagnant water collections,” he said. “However, we have also been working on community focal points where we have focused many types of control measures.”

Zuhair claimed these control measures had been focused specifically on trying to put more emphasis on focusing on island communities to identify possible difficulties with dengue, despite reports from the dengue task force of initial coordination problems in working with the local councillors.

A spokesperson for the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press over its views of the government’s response in dealing with the dengue epidemic” of recent weeks.

Yet over the course of last week DRP Spokerson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef, reiterated his belief to the press that the government had “bungled” their response to trying to control dengue fever. Shareef added that although the DRP welcomed and would cooperate with the government in efforts to try and limit the spread of the virus, he said that authorities had acted too slowly in trying to deal with the outbreak.

“From what we have seen the government is just not doing enough. We don’t believe they have been willfully negligent, but there has been negligence in their approach [to dengue outbreak],” he claimed. “They have not responded fast enough, which could be inexperience on their part. But I think this will be a wake-up call for them to change policy in dealing with these type of situations.”