Health Minister seeks parliament approval for new role

The President’s Office has submitted the name of Minister of Health Dr Mariyam Shakeela for parliament approval on Sunday.

Shakeela was appointed to the post on July 1 after the ministry was renamed to the Ministry of Health from the Ministry of Health and Gender.

The re-shuffle also saw the creation of the Ministry of Law and Gender, which is set to oversee all government functions related to families, children, women, people with special needs, and human rights.


Health Ministry conducts “routine” TB screening at Maafushi prison after inmate diagnosed

The Ministry of Health today confirmed it has conducted a routine tuberculosis (TB) screening of staff and inmates at Maafushi prison after a single case of the disease was diagnosed at the facility.

Health Minister Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed today told Minivan News that a screening for TB had been undertaken at the prison, but added that just a single inmate had tested positive and been diagnosed with the disease.

The screening comes a month after the country’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) warned that a drug resistant strain of TB had been found in the Maldives, posing a “quite a serious” health threat for authorities to deal with.

However, Dr Jamsheed said today that there was no information at present to suggest the single case of TB detected at Maafushi Prison was a drug resistant form of the disease.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), TB is an infectious bacterial disease that can be transmitted via droplets in the throat and lungs of an infected person.

Despite praising authorities for their efforts to eradicate the disease across the Maldives in recent years, the WHO has expressed concern that drug-resistant strains of TB have become a major public health problem resulting from patients not fully completing the recommended six-month course of treatment.

New challenges

The Ministry of Health released a report earlier this year concluding that authorities in the Maldives were facing new challenges controlling the disease.

HPA Public Health Program Officer Shina Ahmed told Minivan News shortly after the report’s publication in March 2013 that although the new strain of TB was “quite serious”, thus far cases of the disease in the Maldives were not resistant to every drug available to patients.

“We have had a few cases come in now with the new strain. The most important thing we have to do is to continue and complete the course of treatment,” Shina said at the time.

“Most of these drug-resistant strains are caused by patients stopping the treatment. We have enough drug supplies to give to them, but because the course goes on for six months, patients tend to go off taking the treatment towards the end.”

In April 2012, staff at the Maldives Criminal Court were screened by health authorities for TB after an employee was found to have tested positive for the disease.

Control programs

International health authorities have previously observed that the Maldives had achieved notable success in TB control since the establishment of a national control program by the Department of Public Health in 1976.

Maldives has an estimated incidence of 47 per 100,000 population of all forms of TB and has sustained meeting the global targets for TB control since 1996, according to the WHO’s communicable disease department for South East Asia.

Tuberculosis, which had a prevalence in the Maldives of 35 cases per thousand people in 1974, declined to about 0.66 per 1000 by 1996, according to the findings.

However, last year the Health Ministry raised concerns over the growing number of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) cases in the Maldives.

The rate of TB prevalence among the country’s expatriate population is also reportedly on the rise as well.  “A large migrant workforce from high TB-burden countries,” continues to identified by the WHO as major challenge for local health bodies.


MNDF drafted to aid government dengue response over “epidemic” fears

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.

Government criticism

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].”