Hundreds mobilized in campaign against dengue

Hundreds of volunteers and staff at state owned companies and government offices began walking door-to-door in the capital Malé this morning with a checklist of activities to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites. At least four people have died this year from dengue fever,a mosquito-borne disease.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is advising the public to empty stagnant water from containers, throw trash into dustbins, and keep containers sealed to prevent water from accumulating.

“We would like to appeal to the public to take up dengue control as an individual responsibility. We are taking measures to eliminate mosquito breeding sites in public spaces, but we do not have access to households,” said Asma Ibrahim, director at the HPA.

Of the 475 cases reported this year, some 180 cases were reported in Malé. Schools have been closed indefinitely to control the spread of dengue. Deaths include a pregnant woman and a migrant worker.

Dengue is now endemic in the Maldives. Prevention and control of the illness solely depends on effective mosquito control measures. Symptoms include high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain.

The HPA has also advised wearing clothes that hide the skin, using mosquito repellants, and keeping doors and windows closed during dawn and dusk.

The agency has stressed the importance of cleanliness and hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease and advised seeking medical assistance if a fever persists for more than three days

An outbreak typically lasts six weeks, Asma said.

The virus is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Aedes aegypti mosquito. It’s peak biting periods are early in the morning and in the evening before dusk.

The Housing Ministry is fogging public areas with insecticides and has requested construction companies to eliminate mosquito breeding sites from construction sites.

The HPA has meanwhile launched a 24-hour ‘dengue hotline’ and urged the public to call or text 7548221 for information.

A severe outbreak of dengue in 2011 saw a record high of 12 deaths. There were 2909 reported cases of dengue that year. In 2006, 10 people died of dengue.

There are four known types of the dengue virus, and the strains responsible for the illness wax and wane cyclically. In regions where dengue is common, one or two strains tend to dominate for two to three years at a time.

People in the region appear to acquire immunity for those strains and the number of cases will dip for a few years before another strain takes over and infections flare up again.

Dengue fever cases worldwide have climbed dramatically since the 1960s, with some 50 million people infected annually.


Ministerial task force formed to combat dengue outbreak

A ministerial task force was convened today to formulate a national level response to a dengue outbreak across the Maldives.

An 18-year-old pregnant Maldivian woman and a migrant worker died of dengue fever in the past week while the Health Protection Agency (HPA) warned of an increase in the incidence of the mosquito-borne disease.

The government began mosquito fogging in Malé and the atolls this morning.

Some 374 cases of dengue has been reported so far this year, of which 125 were reported from Malé and 112 were reported in June.

Health minister Iruthisham Adam, home minister Umar Naseer, and defence minister Moosa Ali Jaleel attended the high-level meeting today along with a number of senior government officials, police officers, and officials from the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

The health minister said mosquito fogging will take place in the capital and affected atolls for the next seven days. The ministry is also cleaning out mosquito breeding sites in collaboration with the housing ministry, environment ministry, home ministry, and the security services.

Last year, the health ministry said dengue fever has become endemic in the Maldives since 2004 with annual outbreaks.

A relatively severe outbreak of dengue in 2011 saw a record high 12 fatalities.

A total of 1,083 dengue cases were reported in the Maldives in 2012. The HPA has previously said that construction workers face an increased risk.


Four paramedic ambulances arrive

The government has brought in four paramedic ambulances to the Maldives yesterday.

State minister for health Hussain Rasheed told Haveeru that the government plans to introduce paramedic ambulance services in Malé, Laamu atoll, and Addu City.

The health ministry signed an agreement with the State Trading Organisation (STO) in November 2014 to bring in 54 ambulances for use in the atolls.

The health ministry said at the time that the ambulances would cost US$2.5 million.

Then-acting health minister Mohamed Nazim had said at the time that the government will provide an ambulance to all inhabited islands by June this year.


Government to screen students for health problems

The government launched a programme to screen seventh grade students for health problems.

The programme – the first of its kind in the Maldives – began yesterday at the Iskandhar School in Malé.

At a ceremony held at the president’s office, the health ministry and education ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding to conduct the programme in schools across the country.

The government says the programme will help identify health issues among adolescents and offer treatment for undiagnosed illnesses. The education ministry aims to screen all 5,656 seventh grade students in the Maldives before the end of the year.

The students will be screened for problems with skin, hair eyesight, spine, teeth, throat, respiration, blood circulation and blood pressure as well as diabetes and psychological issues.

Blood tests will also be conducted for haemoglobin levels, blood group, and thalassemia.




Free Friday clinic opened for Bangladeshis

The Bangladeshi High Commission and the Maldivian health ministry opened a ‘free Friday clinic’ yesterday for Bangladeshi expatriates in the Maldives.

The clinic is located inside the Bangladeshi High Commission in Malé and will offer treatment and medicine free of charge, according to local media.

High commissioner Kazi Saruvaar Hussain and health minister Ahmed Zuroor opened the clinic at a ceremony yesterday.

Zuhoor said undocumented Bangladeshis or migrant workers with expired visas or work permits were reluctant to seek medical treatment.

A number of Bangladeshi workers could not afford the services at clinics and hospitals, he noted.

Bangladeshi doctors working at Maldivian hospitals will be volunteering at the clinic.

The clinic will be open on Fridays from 9:00am to 12:00pm and the doctors will examine up to 150 patients a day.

According to the 2014 national census, there are 58,683 migrant workers in the Maldives. However, the department of national planning said the figure was much lower than the official figure recorded by the immigration department.


STO hands over biomedical equipment worth US$900,000 to the health ministry

The State Trading Organisation (STO) has handed over biomedical equipment worth US$900,000 to the health ministry.

Yesterday (December 20) STO Managing Director Adam Azim handed over 1500 pieces of equipment including patient monitors, ECG machines, defibrillators, and vital sign monitors to acting health minister Mohamed Nazim at a ceremony at Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

The shipment is the first in a US$4million venture to provide all necessary equipment to all the hospitals and health centers in the Maldives.

As the STO marks its 50th anniversary this year, the company has expanded its services in the islands, launching an ambitious programme along with the health ministry to provide ambulances and establish pharmacies on every island.

The government intends to establish ambulance services in all 196 inhabited islands by June 2015, Nazim has said. The STO has been commissioned to buy 54 ambulances worth US$2.5 million.

Basic Services

Speaking to the press on the STO’s anniversary yesterday, Azim said the company’s most significant success is that it has consistently provided Maldivian citizens with fuel, staples, and pharmaceuticals.

The state-owned STO is the country’s primary wholesaler, responsible for bringing in the vast majority of basic foodstuffs such as rice and flour, as well as other imported commodities such as electrical goods.

Azim told Haveeru last week that the STO’s US$114 million (MVR1.7 billion) debt was unprecedented, but that US$51 million had been paid off during his tenure as a result of reductions in expenditure. He pledged to pay off the remaining debt within three years.

According to quarterly reports, the STO earned MVR325.6 million in profits in this year’s third quarter from MVR2.1 billion worth of sales after earning MVR64.2 million in the second quarter.

Documents were confiscated from the organisation’s head office late last month, however, with the Anti Corruption Commission alleging illegal payments for advertising.

In September, Azim also launched a programme to increase national spirit among his staff. The STO workday now starts with the national anthem. The national flag is to be hoisted at all STO buildings and now adorns STO uniforms and staff cards.

The company has announced a sale in all of its 13 stores on the occasion of it’s 50th anniversary. A lucky draw with MVR200,000 worth of prizes will also be held.

Pharmaceuticals, construction materials, oil

Under the programme to establish pharmacies on every island, the STO opened up its 48th pharmacy in Kaafu Atoll Guraidhoo last month. Customers will get Aasandha healthcare coverage at all the pharmacies.

Over 1000 pharmacists – or five individuals from each island – will be trained for the newly opened facilities under an agreement with the education ministry, Azim has previously announced.

President Abdulla Yameen, speaking in Haa Alif Horafushi in November, said the new pharmacies would provide medicine at controlled and reduced prices, acknowledging that the move would affect private businesses selling medicine.

Yameen’s comments came in response to a complaint filed by Shaviyani Atoll Council at the People’s Majlis in which councillors said the STO’s pharmacies would shutdown pharmacies run by the island councils in various islands in the atoll.

The councils’ pharmacies had been established through an atoll trust fund and were among the most profitable businesses in the atoll, said the council, arguing that their closure would impact the atoll council’s MVR1.3 million social sector programme.

The Majlis threw out the petition, however, asking councilors to resolve the matter with STO.

The STO decreased oil prices for the second time in response to falling global prices last week. A litre of petrol was reduced by MVR1 and 75 laari was reduced from a litre of diesel.

The Housing Development Corporation has awarded the company with an 800 square foot plot of land near the ferry terminal in Hulhumalé for the establishment of a fuel shed, making Malé rates available to residents from next year.

The STO closed the popular Al-Fresco café at the STO Trade Center in early November to expand its supermarket, while the company also held a career guidance fair for youth in mid-November to increase awareness of opportunities available at the STO and its subsidiary companies.

In September, an agreement was signed with Maldives Association of Construction Industries to provide cut-price construction material for government projects in an attempt to restart stalled work.

Related to this story

STO to import oil, staples and pharmaceuticals only

STO launches campaign to cut operational costs by MVR 50 million

STO’s Hulhumalé hotel to be completed in one year

State Trading Organisation bankrupt: President Yameen


MoU signed with Sri Lankan company for food and drug testing

The Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Sri Lankan company on Friday (October 3) to provide assistance in conducting laboratory testing for the Food and Drug Authority (FDA).

Acting Health Minister Mohamed Nazim signed the MoU on behalf of the government while N Sri Ram signed on behalf of the SGS Company.

According to the health ministry, SGS would provide assistance for the FDA during the next five years to conduct tests that were unavailable in the Maldives.

The national health laboratory’s capacity would also be improved during the five-year period, the ministry said.

SGS is an international company that conducts testing for product quality and potential health risks.


Nigerian quarantined in Hulhumalé has no symptoms of Ebola, assures health ministry

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

A Nigerian tourist quarantined today as a precautionary measure has no symptoms of the Ebola virus, the Ministry of Health has said.

The health ministry and Health Protection Agency (HPA) briefed the press this afternoon following media reports of a Nigerian man taken from the foreign ministry in Malé to a quarantine facility in Hulhumalé by Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers in protective suits.

HPA Epidemiologist Dr Aishath Aroona Abdulla explained that the foreign ministry informed the health authorities because the Nigerian was “sick looking”.

“After inspection, the doctor at the Hulhumalé hospital said he did not have fever. He is not taking medication for anything at the moment,” she said, noting that the most important symptom of Ebola was high fever along with fatigue, headaches, and aching joints.

Dr Aroona said she questioned the patient and took his history at the Hulhumalé hospital.

“He told me that he did not have a fever or any symptoms, but said ‘I am sick because I have nothing to eat,'” she said.

As the Nigerian did not have a fever, Dr Aroona said there was no risk of people he came into contact with catching the Ebola virus.

“However, he will be observed for the next 24 hours to see if he gets a fever,” she said, adding that both the MNDF officers who transported the suspected patient and the doctor were wearing personal protective equipment.

As the Nigerian could not be considered an Ebola patient, Dr Aroona said samples would be sent to a laboratory in Pune, India for testing only if he exhibits symptoms of a fever in the next 24 hours.

Under protocols put in place in accordance with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, she said if he develops a fever the patient would be treated as a suspected case until the test results return negative.

The authorities had the resources needed to treat a suspected Ebola case, she said, adding that the patient would be released with surveillance if he did not develop a fever.

Precautions taken

The Nigerian was screened upon arrival in the Maldives and entered into the HPA database, revealed Dr Aroona, explaining that visitors from countries facing an Ebola outbreak were placed under surveillance if they had been in the country for 21 days, which is the incubation period for the virus.

While 109 individuals from countries where the virus has been detected have visited the Maldives so far, Dr Aroona said 78 were placed under surveillance, of which 27 were presently in the country.

The resort or guesthouse where the tourist is staying are told to inform the authorities if a guest exhibits symptoms of Ebola, she explained.

She noted that Nigeria and Senegal were “low-transmission” and “low risk” nations with no new cases reported in the past 21 days.

“It’s very unlikely for someone who has traveled to Nigeria to contract Ebola,” she said, adding that visitors from the country were placed under surveillance as a precautionary measure.

While the countries where Ebola was rapidly spreading were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Dr Aroona said there have been no visitors from any of these countries.

While passport holders from the three African nations have visited the Maldives, she noted that none had traveled to these countries for 21 days prior to arriving in the Maldives.

State Minister for Health Hussain Rasheed said the Maldives was following international best practices in accordance with WHO recommendations and efforts were underway to improve surveillance capabilities.

He appealed to the media to correct initial reports and provide information responsibly, noting that the Maldivian economy was dependent on tourism and could be adversely affected by alarmist news headlines.

Director General of Health Services Dr Sheeza Ali revealed that the Nigerian was in the Maldives on a tourist visa but had attempted to find work in the country.

“So we will be consulting with the immigration [department] and the tourism ministry,” she said.

The Nigerian arrived in the Maldives on September 13, she added.

Dr Aroona meanwhile said the incident would be reviewed to improve the process of isolating and testing.

The Nigerian had gone to the foreign ministry for “personal purposes,” Dr Aroona said, declining to reveal details.

According to the WHO, more than 3,000 people have died from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa while a total of 6,574 cases have been reported so far.


President Yameen to personally oversee health sector

With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

President Abdulla Yameen has announced that he will personally oversee the Maldives’ health sector until it overcomes its current problems.

“When things don’t get done, it is the president elected by the people who has to bear responsibility. But the democratic way is to delegate the work and let others do it. And doing things through institutions and offices,” local media quoted Yameen as saying in Addu City yesterday (August 11).

“If everything has to be done by the president, then we can just pay the president a large salary, send everyone else home and the work will be done. But we have offices and departments because we don’t want to do that.”

Speaking at a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) rally, Yameen alleged that, despite a lot of developments having been brought to the health sector during Gayoom’s administration, no investments have been made during President Mohamed Nasheed’s time in office.

The Ministry of Health has been headed by Defence Minister Colonel (retired) Ahmed Nazim after former minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela’s renomination was rejected by the Majlis last month, and had fallen under the oversight of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

In an interview with Haveeru earlier this week, Dr Shakeela alleged that she had received threats and intimidation prior to her departure, suggesting that political opponents wished to remove her in order to benefit from corrupt development deals.

“When things fail, all the complaints are targeted to the president and in the end it is whoever is elected to the post of president that needs to carry the responsibility for everything,” President Yameen told local media.

“Therefore, I have decided that although the sector was not overseen by me previously, I am going to run the health sector directly under my oversight until it overcomes its current hurdles,” he continued.

Corruption claims

Dr Shakeela – whose time in office was marked by a number of high profile mishaps within the sector – told Haveeru that she had not been provided adequate powers to carry out the changes required.

“When I was given the post, some people said this can’t be done by bringing in someone from far outside after we worked hard to bring this government,” she was quoted as saying.

“So from the start there were some people who were bent on showing that I was a failure.”

The state-owned Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) – long criticised for lack of qualified doctors and inadequate medical facilities – transfused HIV positive blood to a patient in February due to an alleged technical error.

In June, Fuvahmulah councillors called for Shakeela’s resignation after a case of stillbirth, an interrupted caesarean, and the death of a soldier on the island. A few weeks after, over 300 protestors demonstrated in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital.

Responding to Shakeela’s interview this week, PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News that acting minister Nazim was carrying out “tremendous” work in the sector – work he is confident Dr Shakeela could not have done.

Nihan argued that the removal of Dr Shakeela was an example of good democratic practice after PPM members became dissatisfied with her performance.

On Monday (September 11) the ministry was reported to have signed an agreement with Sunshell Maldives Pvt Ltd for the MVR1.2 million (US$77,821) renovation of Hithadhoo regional hospital.

Yameen yesterday also praised acting health minister Nazim’s performance, saying he was “working very actively and conducting some very important work”.

He said that Nazim regularly deliberates with him on health sector issues, implementing his suggestions.

“I am therefore confident that with the current minister, I will be able to bring about the changes I desire in even the atoll level hospitals,” said Yameen.

The president is visiting Feydhoo and Hithadhoo islands in the southern atoll to examine ways in which the government’s development agenda can be implemented.

In addition to inaugurate a road construction project in Feydhoo, Yameen announced a land reclamation project to be started on the same island next year, as well as a atoll-wide sewerage project to begin this year.