Maldivian NGO Voice of Women has expressed concern that the victims of the recent HIV scandal at Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) will suffer from further discrimination.
“Our foremost concern is that the mother and child will be subject to unfair and unfounded discrimination based on societal myths and misinformation about the disease,” said the women’s rights NGO.
Despite acknowledgements that the Maldives as a society exhibits a number of high risk behaviors for transmission of HIV, the number of people reported to be living with the illness is less than 100.
The incident, in which HIV positive blood was given to a female patient – whom local media has reported to be pregnant – became public last week.
Following similar calls from the Human Rights Commission, Voice of Women has called for the protection of the patient’s identity as well as urging concerned parties to initiate public awareness campaigns.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the government of hiding the news – first discovered 8 days prior to the public announcement – until the conclusion of celebrations marking its policy achievements since assuming power.
Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has rejected calls for her resignation, arguing that the incident was a one off. She did, however, inform a Majlis committee last week that the health sector was severely underfunded.
An Indian expatriate – allegedly responsible for incorrectly marking the blood test – is currently being held in police custody. IGMH Deputy CEO Dr Mohamed Habeeb told MPs on the government oversight committee that the Indian national had admitted his culpability in the incident.
Voice of Women have been critical of the tone taken by Dr Shakeela in the aftermath of the incident, suggesting she had failed to take responsibility for the systemic failures that led to the incident – instead blaming a single individual.
“We are concerned by repeated calls by the Minister for harsh and criminal punishment for an individual. The punishments should be relevant and take into consideration the failure of the system (if that is the case) rather than laying responsibility solely on an individual,” read the group’s press release.
The NGO also questioned the police’s ability to conduct what it suggests ought to be a medical inquiry.
Further incidents and president’s response
Local media yesterday reported that a similar incident had occurred in nearby Hulhumalé Hospital, with a male patient attempting suicide after mistakenly being told he had hepatitis B.
CNM reported that hospital staff had advised the man to separate from his wife before discovering that the test results were in fact those of another patient. After taking a knife and some rope to the local football pitch, locals dissuaded the man from killing himself. The family are reportedly planning to submit a complaint to the Health Ministry.
Director General of Health Services Dr Sheeza Ali was not responding to calls at the time of press, while Permanent Secretary at the Health Ministry Geela Ali denied any knowledge of the incident.
After being criticised for failing to mention the incident during yesterday’s state address at the opening of the Majlis, President Yameen last night commented on the IGMH incident for the first time.
During a campaign event for Henveiru Dhekunu constituency PPM candidate Mohamed Riyaz, the president was reported as saying that the incident ought not to have happened under any circumstances.
Yameen went on to note that overcrowding at IGMH – which he described as being “busier than the fishmarket” – was a problem that needed resolving urgently.
“If we look at the health minister’s statements at the People’s Majlis committee, there are clinics in Malé. There is a land and building given at a cheap rate – free – called ADK,” Haveeru quoted Yameen as saying.
The privately-run ADK hospital is the capital’s second largest, and is run by the ADK Group. The group is chaired by the Maldivian Democratic Party candidate for the Komandoo Dhaairaa constituency, Ahmed Nashid.
Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed met today with representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), though the President’s Office did not report the IGMH incident as having been discussed.
Shakeela has said that she sought the assistance and advice of the WHO upon learning of the incident on February 19.