The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has been drafted in to help with efforts to try and control an outbreak of dengue fever that the government has described as “an epidemic”.
President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday announced that he had requested the assistance of defense forces in collecting information about the virus from island and atoll health councils after four deaths linked to the affliction were recorded in the space of two days.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Major Abdul Raheem of the MNDF confirmed that the country’s armed forces would be working within a wider government task force to try and establish ways of better controlling the spread of the virus.
The Maldives has been battling a growing number of dengue fever cases in 2011, with 300 cases and five deaths reported in just the first two months of the year. There has been a reported spike in the number of cases of the virus reported in Male’; cases that were linked earlier this year by one health expert to a construction boom in the capital. However, most of the fatalities have been islanders who died in transit to regional hospitals, with many of the most serious cases having affected children.
Raheem did not specify what exact role the MNDF would take in efforts to combat the virus, but added that the defence force would be working as part of a taskforce based within a male’ school to try and coordinate a response to the outbreak.
“This is the first time we have been involved in efforts to help fight dengue fever,” he said. “But we have experience in working to control other [diseases].”
In addressing concerns about incidents of dengue across the Maldives, President Nasheed yesterday said that the MNDF would be used to obtain information about the virus from atoll health authorities in conjunction with councils and the Local Government Authority overseeing their work.
With the current outbreak now being treated as an epidemic by the government, the president called on members of the public and everyone involved in disease control to provide genuine information about the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, anyone found to be providing falsified information is said to risk facing possible prosecution from the authorities, Nasheed warned in a press release.
Early symptoms of the virus include fever, joint paint and a distinctive rash and headache, although it can be difficult to distinguish from the milder Chikungunya disease that can last for up to five days. Even healthy adults can be left immobile by dengue for several weeks while the disease runs its course.
Despite announcing plans to take action against the disease, the government has come under some criticism this week within the Majlis for perceived failures in its handling of the local dengue situation.
Amongst the criticisms, People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla asked Health Minister Dr Aminath Jameel if she was considering resignation “since based on what is being said here your sector has very much failed,” Dr Jameel replied that she did not believe that was the case.
The health minister, replying to another question from MDP MP Ali Waheed during Tuesday’s (June 28) parliamentary session, said the ministry was providing information to islands through teleconferencing and stressed that controlling mosquito breeding grounds was key to combating the rise in dengue fever across the country.
“Mosquitoes don’t travel very far,” she explained. “Therefore, it’s mosquitoes from nearby areas that are spreading it. Controlling mosquito [breeding] is needed from the public and individuals as well. We are working together with island councils and the Male’ City Council.”
Jameel claimed that the Addu City Council had also taken up initiatives and organised activities to try and combat dengue.
“An additional problem that we encounter is the quick turnover of doctors in the country’s hospitals and health centres,” she said. “So they are not very familiar with the protocol here. We are facing that problem as well. But as I’ve said, this can’t solved without controlling mosquito [breeding].”