Islamic minister dismisses rumour of President Yameen not performing Hajj

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has dismissed rumours of President Abdulla Yameen not performing the Hajj pilgrimage despite traveling to Saudi Arabia in September.

Asked to address the speculation during minister’s question time at yesterday’s sitting of parliament by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Shareef, Shaheem suggested the rumours were being spread by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who he said was unable to make the pilgrimage while in office.

“The president of the Maldives made the Hajj [pilgrimage]. As you know, he was supposed to go the UN assembly but went to Hajj after cancelling it,” he said.

He claimed that former President Nasheed declined an opportunity to perform the pilgrimage during his tenure and had sent the first lady instead.

Shaheem was state minister for Islamic affairs under the Nasheed administration.

Nasheed’s remarks concerning President Yameen’s Hajj pilgrimage “opens the door for others to talk further about the things they have done,” Shaheem said.

“So I think it would be better to stay quiet without going around talking about such personal matters,” he said.

In an interview with Minivan Radio last week, Nasheed repeated calls for President Yameen to publicly address speculation concerning the trip to Saudi Arabia and his health.

The opposition leader referred to former President Mohamed Ameen informing the public about his health in a letter sent from Sri Lanka to the Maldivian parliament.

Nasheed claimed that according to close associates President Yameen was unable to perform rituals at Arafat due to poor health.

He implied that the source of the rumours was government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, who accompanied the president to Saudi Arabia.

The public deserved to know the truth about the president’s health as speculation creates fear and doubt, he added.

Following numerous unofficial trips to Singapore by President Yameen this year, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali denied rumours that the president underwent brain surgery in Singapore.

“Rumours being spread about the president’s health are false,” he tweeted on October 23.

Nasheed meanwhile contended that President Yameen was ruling “in absentia” or away from the public eye.

If the president is “incapacitated” and could not execute the duties of his office, Nasheed said the Constitution requires the vice president to assume the president’s powers.

In late October, an anonymous senior government told newspaper Haveeru that the MDP were using areca palm trees planted in Malé by the city council for black magic to curse President Yameen with ill health.

A close associate of President Yameen told the newspaper that the president did not seek treatment for a brain tumour.

Instead, the associate claimed, the president sought treatment for infections caught during his Hajj pilgrimage and had to be admitted at a Singapore hospital.

The anonymous government official said the president’s close associates believe that black magic or sorcery using the palm trees were responsible for the president’s ill health.

“[They] believe that [President Yameen’s] health worsens with every palm frond that falls off the areca palm trees. And that his health would worsen further with every tree that blossoms,” the anonymous official was quoted as saying.

Related to this story

Palm trees used by MDP to curse President Yameen, alleges senior government official

Public should be informed about president’s health, says Nasheed


Red Bull reveals plans for ‘Catch the Ferry’ road race

Runners in the Maldives can expect a new challenge unlike any seen in the Maldives before. The Red Bull Catch the Ferry (RBCF) road race is set to commence on May 31. Unlike other road races previously held in the Maldives, the RBCF road race will see participants compete in a 12.6km race across Malé, Hulhumalé and Vilingili.

To progress, runners will need to make it around each of the routes on the island and catch the ferry before it departs for the next leg of the race. Ferries will leave at progressively quicker intervals before departing for the next leg, reads the press statement.

“This very unique concept, offering Maldivian runners to a new challenge. Red Bull Catch the Ferry combines challenge, excitement and fun in one competition. Athletes are really looking forward for this exciting event,” Half Marathon record holder Naseer Ismail states on the press release.

Accordidng to the statement, the fastest male and female of the race will win an opportunity to attend the Almáty edition of the Red Bull 400, which is scheduled to be held inKazakhstan in August this year.

Red Bull 400 is the steepest uphill race that takes place in Europe, and was created by former world-class sprinter Andreas Berger.

The race will take place from 15:50 – 18:00, May 31 2014, starting at the Raalhugandu Helipad Area, Boduthakurufaanu Magu in Malé.

Other races in the Maldives include the Dhiraagu Maldives Road Race, which will take place on June 6.

One of the largest athletic events in the country, the Dhiraagu Maldives Road Race comprises of 5km and 10km. The run is dedicated for a social cause, and this year’s theme is ‘Help Protect Our Children’. Local telecoms company Dhiraagu initially started the event in 2007 as a way of promoting healthier lifestyles for Maldivians.

The race is scheduled to take place in the afternoon of June 6 2014, at Male’ City (Raalhugandu Area), accompanied by live music and children’s activities. Since its inception in 2007, this is the 8th consecutive year of the event.


“Once a year is not enough”: Tiny Hearts holds annual camp for children with heart defects

Around 100 children and their parents will travel to Malé this week for the ‘Care for Tiny Hearts’ camp which seeks specialised treatment and detection for congenital heart defects.

An estimated 80% of these patients will have travelled long distances from the atolls for this rare opportunity for local treatment.

This is the sixth camp organised by local NGO Tiny Hearts of Maldives, running until March 26 at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

Held just once a year, the event seeks to provide children registered with Tiny Hearts of Maldives the opportunity to consult pediatric cardiologists without travelling abroad.

“We have proved something is viable,” co-founder Ali Muaz told Minivan News. “Once a year is not enough, but it’s the most we can give.”

Tending to the patients over the course of the event is one local doctor, alongside two Indian doctors specialised in paediatric cardiology.

In addition to this, a special Fetal Echo workshop will also be conducted tomorrow for radiologists working in Malé. The purpose of this workshop is to assist in early detection and timely treatment of any defect present in the baby’s heart during pregnancy.

Tiny Hearts of Maldives was founded in 2009 by Ali Muaz and Fathimath Hishmath Faiz, in memory of their son Keyaan, who was born with a congenital heart condition and died at just 2 and a half months.

The experience of their son’s condition lead them to realise the critical need for access to information and assistance in dealing with specific health issues that affect newborns, infants, and young children in general, in the Maldives.

There are now 320 children registered with the organisation, with most coming from the sparsely scattered atolls outside the capital.

Unfortunately, there are only 1-2 cardiologists working all year round in the Maldives, according to Fiunaz Waheed of Tiny Hearts.

“It’s very difficult to get an appointment most of the time,” she added, “so they [parents] find it very difficult.”

When asked by Minivan News how the government could support a wider network of local treatment, Fuinaz preferred not to comment.

Muaz explained that around 80% of the patients who visited the camp came from atolls, with some travelling hours to attend. Regardimg the distribution of healthcare available to local islands he noted, “I’m hoping for it to get better,” though Muaz was also reluctant to comment on the ways in which the government could implement this.

One of the many issues faced by a centralised healthcare system is the lack of contact between doctors and patients, with Muaz explaining that the main method of contact is individual telephone calls and texts.

Another major problem is the long and costly journeys faced by families to reach specialist treatment – a well-documented problem for the country’s numerous citizens living with Thalassemia which requires regular visits to the capital, at great financial and physical cost to patients and their families.

The deficiencies in local healthcare often mean that families will look to travel abroad to get the essential treatment they need.

However, Fiunaz of Tiny Hearts explains that “sometimes its very difficult to send them abroad also, because its very costly.” She added that the Tiny Hearts camp is a rare opportunity for families to get the “proper treatment in the proper time”.

When asked about the possibility of expansion for Tiny Hearts, Muaz stated that they have signed an MoU with the ministry of education, and they hope to continue with their valuable work.

Minivan News was unable to gain a response from officials at the Ministry of Health at the time of press.


Saudi Prince pledges mosques and aid for Islamic, health, and education sector

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz has pledged to build ten “world-class” mosques in Maldives, Saudi news agency Arab News has reported.

Quoting Maldives’ Islamic minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem, the agency stated the prince donated US$1million to the ministry for “various projects” and another US$1.5million for health projects.

Prince Salman pledged to provide aid in the education sector, and Shaheem explained that an invitation was extended to him to visit Saudi Arabia and discuss way to bolster ties in “matters related to religion and education”.

Yesterday Shaheem left for Saudi on an official trip.

Other areas in which Saudi cooperation was sought during the prince’s visit include the ministry’s mosque ‘Waqf‘ fund, Center for Holy Quran, and in Hajj pilgrimage affairs.

The report said that “it was not immediately known” if the the Maldivian proposal seeking US$300 million credit facility was discussed during the meeting. The credit facility – to finance the Maldives budget deficit – was pledged by the prince during former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s visit to Saudi in July 2013.

At the time DrWaheed told local media that it would be a 5-8 year loan with an interest rate of 1-2 percent.

Saudi Arabia has already agreed to donate seven mosques this year, with MVR28.8 million allocated for six of these mosques in the Islamic Ministry programmes for 2014.

Fifty Scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia were also announced recently, with just fourteen applications being received by the initial deadline. In January, a group of Saudi Islamic Scholars visited the country to conduct religious education ‘dawra’ program for local scholars.

Haveeru reported that female Islamic scholars were excluded from these discussions, while the Saudi scholarships also require female students to be accompanied by a male ‘guardian’ or mahram during their time studying in the country.

Islamic scholars from Saudi also conduct religious education ‘dawra’ programmes annually in the Maldives as a selection process for the Saudi funded Islamic education programs for a selected number of students.

Prince Salman is expected to spend some time in the Maldives on holidays before returning to Saudi Arabia. During his official meeting with President Abdulla Yameen he discussed economic and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries.


Orthopedic surgeries halted as IGMH fails to provide protective gowns

Read this article in Dhivehi

Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) has “temporarily delayed” some orthopedic surgeries after State Trading Organisation (STO) failed to supply lead gowns for medical staff, Deputy CEO Dr Mohamed Habeeb has said today.

He said the only surgeries affected by this would be those that require real-time X-ray monitoring, and that the hospital was expecting to receive the gowns very soon.

The lead gowns, like most other medical supplies for the hospital, are purchased through the STO, said Habeeb. The STO is a public company, with more than ninety two percent shares owned by the government.

“We have ordered replacements even last year. We might get them even by tonight. STO is working on it right now,” said Habeeb.

The purpose of lead gowns is to prevent the unnecessary and frequent exposure of medical staff to radiation which can cause cancer, infertility, and birth defects. While an estimated minimum of ten gowns are usually required for a surgery, the hospital currently has only two fit for use.

An IGMH nurse who often has to assist such surgeries told Minivan News that it has now been more than two years since they started requesting for new gowns. Letters have been written informing all relevant authorities of the situation, she added.

Orthopedic surgeries are done three days a week at the hospital, she explained, and on some days more than six of these surgeries require lead gowns.

“They [the remaining usable gowns] are usually taken by the doctors, saying they are closer to the source. Some staff have panicked after finding out they are pregnant. That risk is always there. And we are concerned about the patients as well. I have never seen any patient being offered a gown here,” she continued.

She stated that when patients need urgent attention, nurses cannot ignore and refuse to attend them even with the risks. Following a decision made by the department today, they will not be attending such surgeries until gowns are provided for them.

Head of the IGMH Orthopedic Department Dr Yoosuf Shan has told ‘Haveeru‘ that a memo highlighting the department’s decision has been sent to the heads of IGMH and the Health Minister.

“Radiation exposure could cause cancer. Most nurses assisting the surgeries are women. Without lead gowns their children could be born with birth defects. So as a precautionary measure we were forced to stop some of surgeries. They will continue only after we received lead gown,” Dr Shan was quoted as saying.

IGMH could not identify the exact reason for the delay in acquiring the gowns and the STO was unable to put Minivan News in touch with the relevant person.

Last November STO stopped supplying medicine to IGMH after it reached a set credit limit. At the time STO managing director Shahid Ali told local media that the Hospital had to pay approximately MVR 200 million to the organisation.

STO later resumed supples after raising the credit limit by MVR5 million in addition to the MVR411 million credit limit which includes payments going back to 2011.

Following the failure of other state owned company’s to pay almost US$40 million in bills owed to the STO, President Abdulla Yameen declared the organisation bankrupt last November. The company subsequently launched a campaign to cut operational costs by MVR50 million in 2014 (US$ 3,242,542).


Government seeks developer to build, manage multi-speciality hospital in Hulhumale’

The government has announced a plan to open an international standard multi-speciality hosipital in Hulhumale’, and asked for submission of proposals to develop and manage it for a minimum period of 35 years.

The Hulhumale’ multi-speciality hospital will be the first of its kind in the country, offering specialist treatment for a variety of ailments. The government intends to run it as a public private partnership project, where the developer must design and finance the project themselves.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration has held separate weekly press conferences on its economic, education and social policies. The government has announced a raft of ambitious plans, including the building of a bridge between Malé  and Hulhumalé and developing regional airports.

The hospital will have 337 beds, and will be of a standard which can cater to both local and foreign patients, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed said in a press conference held today.

Minister of Gender and Health Mariyam Shakeela provided details; 309 of these beds will be reserved for in-patients, with the remaining 28 beds being used in the Intensive Care Unit. She stated that it is a key objective of the government to ensure that citizens are able to obtain quality healthcare at inexpensive rates.

She further stated that one reason a multi-speciality hospital is located in Hulhumale’ is to avoid probable over-crowding in capital Male’ City’s state-owned hospital IGMH upon introduction of new and better services. She said that this would lead to a decrease in the number of citizens seeking medical services abroad.

While the government has not yet decided on a particular site to build the hospital, Shakeela said that all efforts will be put in to attempt to find a location agreeable to both the state and the party developing the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) has said it will upgrade the military hospital Senahiya and open it up for the public.

Plans for a similar hospital in Hulhumale’ were first discussed in 2004 during former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s administration.

In 2009, then President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration also held discussions on the matter in the National Planning Council.

The previous government headed by former President Mohamed Waheed also announced for proposals twice in 2012, with just one applicant the first time, and none during the second. The government will provide them with a plot of land as state equity.

Economic Minister Saeed expressed confidence that although previous governments could not find interested companies to develop the hospital, he believed that “the current government will successfully achieve this as investor trust is rapidly increasing in recent days”.


Government continues plans for first 100 days

Twenty-six days into the administration of President Abdulla Yameen, state institutions have been unveiling plans to commence or to resume projects within a 100 day period of the government’s November 17 inauguration.

A number of ‘roadmaps’ have emerged in the transport, health, and immigration. Similar lists of projects have also been devised for customs, the police, and the military.

Transport and communication

On December 8, the Transport and Communication Ministry revealed that it would finish drafting plans and begin the groundwork within a 100 days to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) to be able to cater to 5 million passengers.

Plans were also made to introduce the nighttime landing of flights in Thimarafushi and Fuvahmulah airports within this period.

In the field of land transportation, the ministry pledged to improve local ports, connect islands via seaplane transport and to improve ferry services between atolls.

There are further plans to establish a broadband internet policy and to provide fast-speed internet to all inhabited islands. Besides this, the plan also includes the introducing number portability between the two telecom service providers currently available in the country.

Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim said that the government’s object was to make the Maldives the most advanced among the SAARC countries in the field of communication.

The government has also announced its intention to build a bridge between Hulhule’ – the airport island- and capital Male’, and have requested proposals from interested companies.


Just a week after the new administration was established, Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed announced that the government had begun to solve issues in providing health services to the people.

Visiting the sole state-owned hospital – IGMH – in capital city Malé on November 24, Jameel announced that the government would begin fulfilling its health policies “as soon as we get the budget for it”, adding that this would include revamping the Aasandha insurance scheme and training nurses and doctors.

Early in December, prior to the appointment of a health minister, President’s Office Minister Abdulla Ameen announced that chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients would be introduced within the first one hundred days.

Stating that the lack of the service forced many Maldivians to live abroad for medical purposes, Ameen said that the introduction of chemotherapy facilities in the country was crucial. He added that screening to diagnose cervical cancer would also be introduced -both under a government insurance scheme.

Echoing Ameen’s assurances of fast development to IGMH, Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela said at a press conference held today that the government was drafting a policy to “bring major development to IGMH in a very short period of time to an extent never before seen”.

She said that this included a complete renewal of the management figures at the hospital.

The minister further revealed that the government had decided to transfer specialist doctors to the atolls for a period of time which would be allocated by the ministry.

Shakeela stated that funds for development are included in the budget, and that the government is also seeking aid from international donors for some of the projects. She hoped that such developments would  lead to “decreasing the burden on Aasandha”.

Shakeela promised that the full 100 day programme would be revealed next week.


Immigration Controller Hassan Ali announced on December 5 that the institution’s biggest focus in the first 100 days of Yameen’s government would be to control the issue of illegal immigrants.

The plan itself includes work to offer illegal immigrants a chance to change employees, and increasing the number of illegal immigrants who will be deported in 2014.

The immigration controller also revealed plans to establish an online system of obtaining work visas from Kulhudhuhfushi, establishing a single office to deal with all migrant related work, and a mechanism where e-passports can be issued from two areas of the country.

Customs, Police and Military

The Maldives Police Services has also created a roadmap of goals they will work to achieve in the first 100 days of the Yameen administration.

On December 9, police revealed that the foremost goal in this roadmap is to complete investigation of 80 per cent of ongoing cases – the total amount of which was not specified – and to forward them to the Prosecutor General’s office.

Other goals include completion of investigation into small and petty crimes within a 30 day period, pre-emptive identification and intervention in cases of intention to commit crimes, and the setting up of additional security cameras in Male’ and Addu City.

Police will also be working to eradicate sexual abuse of children, and to establish what they have termed ‘be ready camps’ to achieve this goal in two atolls.

Facilitating youth employment by helping to get sea vessel driving licences, increasing women’s employment in the policing field to 50 percent, and the establishment of a juvenile detention centre is also included among the listed aims.

The roadmap also includes internal work like the establishment of a new system to address complaints against police officers, the creation of a police clinic for health support to officers and their families, and the compilation of a four-year strategic plan on professional development of the force.

Police, together with customs, have also initiated programs to tackle the illegal import and abuse of narcotics and serious and organised crimes.

Customs – which has also revealed a roadmap for the same period – have on December 12, expressed concern that budget limitations may prove to be an obstacle in the realisation of their goals.

Commissioner General of Customs Ahmed Mohamed stated that the budget cuts would affect the institution’s reaching of its objectives, including the provision of more convenient online services.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF)’s 100 day strategic plan includes the submission of various amendments to relevant laws – including the Armed Forces Act and Narional Security Act – to the parliament, and the establishment of a ‘justice system’ within the force.

The plan further consists of a variety of other projects, including the addition of a helicopter and landing crafts to its fleet, and the establishment of fire stations in the islands of Kahdhoo and Naifaru.

The military intend to lay the foundation for a new eight story building where the current Coast Guard offices are, to conduct additional international training for officers – especially with the Indian Army, to provide medical care at low fees for general citizens at the Senahiya military hospital, and the establishment of a day care centre for the use of officers and families.


The culture of silence surrounding suicide in the Maldives

Six people have died in reported suicides so far this year.

The first case was reported on January 7. A 39 year-old woman from Kinolhas in Raa Atoll died after consuming a poisonous substance.

On May 21, a 26 year-old Indian teacher working on Eydhafushi island of Baa Atoll hanged himself.

On June 18, a young man aged 20 committed suicide by ingesting poison at the resort he worked.

In the latest three suicides, cases reported almost a week from each other, three men took their lives by hanging themselves.

Meanwhile, several more disturbing suicide attempts and self-inflicted injuries have also been reported, including one incident involving a woman who jumped into the water holding her five year-old child. Fortunately, the pair were rescued by bystanders.

According to Global School Health Survey of Maldivian students published in 2009, 19 percent of the those surveyed said they had “seriously considered attempting suicide”. A further 22 percent of these said they had made a plan on how to do it.

These scary figures are just a few among the many warnings underscoring the high prevalence of mental health woes and suicide risk factors among young people in the Maldives.

But, authorities have been to slow to recognise the problem.

In 2001 only a single suicide case was recorded in the Maldives, while over the years the rates of reported suicides have  jumped as high as 14 in 2007, 13 cases in 2011 and five last year. Suicide statistics have not been maintained by the police or any authority consistently, and more cases are likely to go unreported or undetected.

Speculating on causes

Anecdotal evidence suggest that most suicides or self-inflicted injuries among young people stem from bullying or neglect, according to medical officer at the Health Protection Agency, Dr Fathmath Nazla Rafeeq. She also cited a a potential correlation between suicide and drug use.

“We know that drug use in Maldives is much higher compared to even places such as Afghanistan. Research show that drug use can cause severe mental health problems among long term addicts. Drug use hampers a person’s capacity to cope with stress and due to that some people take their own lives.” Dr Nazla explained. Therefore, she said current drug rehabilitation programs already focus on dual diagnosis: providing rehabilitation and psychosocial support.

She also adds that urbanisation, congestion and unemployment in developing countries is believed to contribute to suicide rates, and suggested a similar pattern was emerging in the Maldives.

Over the years, people from remote islands have moved to the capital city Male’ resulting in uncontrolled urbanisation and overcrowding. One third of the Maldives’ 350,000 population lives in the capital while the rest is scattered in small island communities, some as small as 500 people. Unemployment is also widespread among young people.

Meanwhile, extended families are being replaced with small separate nuclear families due to poor housing conditions and other demographic changes, according to Dr Nazla.

“This definitely impacts relationships within homes and can have a detrimental effect on emotional well-being of people, especially children,” she observed.

However, she says it is difficult to ascertain specific reasons behind suicides in Maldives, as no studies have been so far conducted into understanding the prevalence of suicides or what causes it.

She also acknowledged the slow pace of expanding a structured mechanism to provide psycho-social support, despite evidence of high risk suicide factors.

“We are able to provide free medication to people with chronic mental illnesses. But, when it comes to normal people with mental health problems who sometimes need support such as counselling, we have very limited public support system – especially on the islands,” she noted.

According to Dr Nazla, the psychiatric centre at the state-run hospital IGMH is frequently overbooked and Family and Children Centres run by the Gender Ministry on remote islands respond only to cases of abused women and children, with little direct oversight from the health ministry.

As suicides are most frequent among young men and expatriate workers, she also pointed out the need for specific programs targeting these vulnerable groups.

Therefore, she says, talks are in progress with World Health Organisation (WHO) to conduct a joint study into understanding the prevalence of chronic mental health illnesses and various emotional health problems in the Maldives, and what can be done to expand mental healthcare facilities.

Understanding suicidal behaviour will be a major component of the study, Dr Nazla says.

However, she argued that best way to prevent suicides comes from strengthening relationships.

“Parents should be able to have honest conversations with children to let them know that they are always there to help. It is also very important for married couples and close friends to have open discussions and build trust.”

Stigma and silence

Though openly speaking about suicidal tendencies is considered a way of stopping it from happening, it is easier to be said than done.

The Maldives is constitutionally a 100-percent Muslim country and it is common belief that suicide is one of the religion’s biggest sins, akin to apostasy.

At the same time no legal penalty exists for survivors of suicide attempts under the Sharia-common law system in the Maldives, as opposed to many countries which have criminalised suicide.

But the sting of stigma that emerges in the wake of a suicide is far from forgiving. And it is the suicide victim’s family that bears the brunt.

A young woman who lost her 18 year-old sister to suicide, shared an account of the disturbing experience she and her family endured following her death.

“My sister was a very happy outgoing girl and her performance in school was outstanding. We don’t know till this day why she killed herself,” she said.

“Society didn’t even give us a chance to mourn her death in peace. When we took her body to the graveyard, no one wanted to join in for funeral prayer and we weren’t allowed to take her body inside the mosque. We had to bury her body far away from other graves because [graveyard staff] didn’t allow it,” she recalled.

“People said by committing suicide my sister had become an apostate. She is no longer a Muslim, so she cannot be buried near others.”

For months her family was tormented by neighbours and journalists swarming into the house.

“I was just 13 then. People stopped me on street to ask how my sister killed herself. What was she wearing. They kept asking if she pregnant, and was it related to a boyfriend problem,” she remembered. “There was no sympathy and people jumped to the worst conclusions in the most insensitive way possible.”

“I almost quit school too. My Islam teacher made me play hangman in class just few days after my sister’s death. She kept saying my sister would keep repeatedly dying in hell like this for eternity,” she recalled.

She says her family received no psychological support.

“My family coped with my sister’s suicide by erasing her from our lives. They pretend she never existed. My parents and siblings never talk about her.”

Promoting suicides

While families cope with suicide tragedies by keeping silent, some media organisations have also chosen not to report suicide incidents including public broadcaster TVM.

However some incidents are impossible to ignore – such as the case of the 25 year-old air traffic controller Ismail Mohamed Didi, who was found hanged from the air traffic control in July 2010.

Studies of suicide and the media in other countries have shown a pattern between careless coverage and ‘copycat’ attempts – sometimes leading to a suicide epidemic. Many foreign press associations have guidelines for reporters, such as including contact numbers for people in need of help, and being careful not to use language such as ‘an unsuccessful suicide’ when covering a failed attempt.

Maldives Broadcasting Commission President Mohamed Shaheeb said that during his time working as a journalist, suicide cases were rejected as “low-profile and not newsworthy”.

“This had nothing to do with religion”, Shaheeb said, stating that main reason for this practice was fear of “promoting suicides”.

“But news is news. Suicide is also news,” says Shaheeb. “When it is reported people know that it has happened. So there is no problem in reporting it. But personally I don’t believe a suicide should be reported every time, for example each time a Bangladeshi or Indian kills themselves. Unless it is a high-profile [victim], reporting it is unnecessary in my opinion,” he explained.

Ahmed Zahir, Editor of Sun Online, one of the few news websites reporting suicide incidents, disagrees.

He argued that reporting all suicides – Maldivians and expatriate – was necessary as these incidents helped to show “loopholes in society” forcing people to take such grave measures, and said such accounts can be useful for research purposes.

“Keeping silent definitely will not solve the issue,” Zahir said.


Parents seek help after baby born with huge birthmark on face

The parents of a baby girl born with an usually large black birthmark across her face are seeking donations for surgery to remove the scar.

The baby’s parents are from the island of Meedhoo in Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives.

The father of the baby said doctors had advised him to go abroad to seek further medical assistance as there was little they could do to help in the Maldives.

“Doctors advised me to go for a plastic surgery,” wrote Ahmed Shareef on Facebook, posting a picture of his newborn.

“But plastic surgery is not available here in Maldives. And it costs a huge amount. Please help me in anyway you can if it is possible. Even I will appreciate your good prayers too,” he adds.

The picture has gone viral across Maldivian social media since it was posted on Thursday, and has been shared by over 5000 users. The local community – both online and offline – are rallying to raise money to help the girl.

Speaking to Minivan News on Sunday, Shareef said he had been in touch with doctors from abroad who had given a preliminary diagnosis of Congenital Nevomelanocytic Nevus (CNN).

A nevus – the medical term for a birthmark – larger than 20 centimetres in diameter only occurs once in every half a million newborns. This is the first such case reported in Maldives, which has a population of around 350,000 people.

The scar went undetected during ultra sound scans throughout the pregnancy, Shareef explained.

Although the scar is believed to be benign, there is risk of it further spreading across the baby’s face and causing complications as serious as cancer, according to the family.

“There is a chance of the scar spreading. Or even it may become cancerous. So most of the doctors are saying go for surgery,” Shareef explained.

The young couple, who also have a four-year old son, say they are extremely worried about their daughter’s future.

“Just imagine how can a girl will live here with that. Think about her future,” he said. “The only way I can help my baby is to take her abroad, consult a specialist and do the surgery. But my wife and I cannot afford the travel and costs of the treatment. Please help me,” he begged.

Shareef is a primary school teacher while his wife is a clerk at the island council office, earning less than US$800 a month between them.

Shareef said his wife also had a heart condition requiring prescriptions and regular check ups.

“Despite all this, my wife is very strong. I am doing everything I can to help my wife and daughter,” Shareef said, thanking the public for its generous support so far.

While Shareef is struggling to raise money, little support is available from the state as the national health insurance scheme does not cover expenses for plastic surgery.

The Maldives has a culture of families and friends helping to raise funds for medical treatment to save loved ones, increasingly through social media.

Recently, a young woman launched a search for a Maldivian donor for her husband whose kidneys had both failed. She recently announced that two matching donors had been found.

Similarly, parents of a child born with cleft lip and palate ran a successful campaign called “Help Lisa Smile”. The family raised money through T-shirt sales, in addition to generous donations, and the operation was successful.

For more information on this story contact Ahmed Shareef on Facebook