Dr Shakeela alleges conspiracy to drive her from office

Former health minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has suggested her removal from office was the result of a conspiracy which included death threats and a smear campaign.

Giving an interview to local newspaper Haveeru, Shakeela alleges that she was ousted in order to clear the way for corruption within the health sector.

“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 told Haveeru.

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

Shakeela told the paper that she had received multiple threatening phone calls – including eight in a single evening, suggesting she would be killed if she did not resign.

Dr Shakeela’s reappointment in the redefined role of health minister was overwhelmingly rejected by the pro-government majority People’s Majlis last month.

Parliamentary group leader for the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Ahmed Nihan, has told Minivan News today that Shakeela’s removal was a democratic decision made by the parliamentary group.

“I cannot accept her claims in that regard, and cannot verify whether this is the case [of threats] or not,” said Nihan.

The Villimalé MP said that rejection of Shakeela by the parliamentary group after her nomination by the president sent a strong signal to ministers.

“If we [MPs] decide to give another year to Shakeela and wait for a whole year, who will be blamed?” he asked.

The President’s Office today said that it did not wish to comment on the interview, nor the allegations of death threats sent to the former cabinet minister.

Threats to politicians have become increasingly common in recent months, with Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim alleging fellow politicians were behind these attempts at intimidation.

Corruption allegations

Dr Shakeela, speaking while attending a conference in Bhutan, said that political opponents intended to utilise the position to benefit from large scale corruption in the health sector.

“I am not talking about small amounts [of money]. For example, because of the state of disrepair of infrastructure, about MVR500,000 has to be spent at least to build even one place. In most places, it goes above a million,” she explained.

“So consider the profit people could make. They could give it to whoever they want. They could do whatever they want to purchase equipment. I tried to do it without allowing any of that.”

Dr Shakeela – who served as environment and energy minister under the previous government – also alleged that negative media coverage of the health sector was part of wider efforts to engineer her removal.

A series of protests over regional healthcare services came soon after it was revealed state-owned Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) had 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 later, over 300 protestors demonstrated in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital.

Shakeela was up for parliamentary approval in August for the second time during President Abdulla Yameen’s administration after her initial portfolio as minister of health and gender was modified.

While Shakeela told Haveeru that she was not given adequate authority to carry out her job,  PPM parliamentary leader Nihan today said that acting health minister Colonel (Ret.) Mohamed Nazim was now doing a “tremendous” job.

“I’m sure that the work of the acting Health Minister is commendable, work that Shakeela could not have done – I’m quite sure of that,” said Nihan.

Drawing parallels with the work of former health minister Ilyas Ibrahim – brother-in-law of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Nihan argued that the sector had needed a more proactive minister.

Nihan suggested that the money allocated to the health sector in the past two budgets had been generous, a point previously disputed by both Shakeela and Permanent Secretary at the health ministry Geela Ali


Medical camp for heart diseases underway in Malé

Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela inaugurated a three-day medical camp offering free treatment for heart diseases in the capital Malé on Saturday (August 9).

The medical camp with Dr Vivek Gupta, a specialist from the Asiri Surgical Hospital in Sri Lanka, is taking place at the Dhamana Veshi urban primary health centre in the Thalassemia centre on Majeedhee Magu.

The camp was jointly organised by government-run Dhamana Veshi and the Corona Sunrise International Pvt Ltd security firm.

Speaking at an opening ceremony, Dr Shakeela reportedly said that treatment of heart diseases was a “major challenge” facing the Maldives.

Two patients selected at the camp would be offered free treatment at the Asiri Surgical Hospital funded by Sunrise Corona, she added.

The health minister noted that the Maldives has the highest incidence of fatalities from non-contagious diseases in the South Asia region.

According to the health ministry, a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation from 2004 to 2012 found that 47 percent of Maldivians were overweight and 18.8 percent were smokers.

The most common heart diseases in the Maldives include blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, ischemic heart disease, and myocardial infarction or heart attacks.


PPM MPs to hold secret vote on health minister reappointment

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) on Wednesday decided to hold a secret vote to determine the party’s parliamentary group’s stand on reappointing Dr Mariyam Shakeela as health minister.

Shakeela is up for Majlis approval for a second time after President Abdulla Yameen modified her initial portfolio as Minister of Health and Gender.

The gender department was transferred on July 1 to the new Ministry of Law and Gender to be headed by Attorney General Mohamed Anil.

According to local media, 21 of the 24 PPM MPs present at a parliamentary group meeting decided on a secret ballot following a dispute between MPs over reappointing Shakeela.

The vote will be held at a PPM parliamentary group meeting on Monday at 12:30pm.

In response, Shakeela told the press she has no issue with failing to gain the required votes if MPs do not see her work in strengthening the health sector.

“What can I say? Every day, there is a lot of work underway at this ministry [to strengthen the health sector]. If [MPs] do not see this effort, then I have no problem if they don’t vote,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

Local news agency Haveeru has claimed 21 out of 35 MPs present at a meeting in late July voted against approving Shakeela for the position.  MPs are reportedly dissatisfied with Shakeela’s performance in the past eight months.

The Health Ministry has been under fire following a series of protests over regional health care services and health mishaps in Malé.

The state owned Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) – long criticised for lack of qualified doctors, adequate medical facilities, and medicine – transfused HIV positive blood to a patient due to an alleged technical error.

In June, councilors of southern Fuvahmulah Island 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 later, over 300 protestors demonstrated in front of northern Kulhudhuffushi Island over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital on the island.

Shakeela was first appointed to the cabinet by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan in May 2012. At the time, she held the Environment and Energy portfolio. President Abdulla Yameen reappointed Shakeela to the cabinet in November 2013 with the health portfolio.

The former 77-member Majlis approved Shakeela to the position with 43 votes in favor.

PPM’s parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan was not responding at the time of press.

The ruling party holds a majority in the People’s Majlis with 43 of the 85-member house. PPM’s ally the Maldives Development Alliance controls an additional five seats.


Pneumonia patient dies on sea ambulance en route to Malé

A 31-year-old woman diagnosed with pneumonia has died on the sea ambulance en route to Malé on Sunday night.

Fathimath Naeem of Faafu Atoll Nilandhoo Island died at 10:30, approximately 30 minutes after a sea ambulance left Nilandhoo, the island’s council has said.

Fathimath is survived by her husband and a five-year-old daughter.

A pregnant woman also gave birth on a Nilandhoo street while waiting for the same sea ambulance, the council said. Both the mother and child are in good health, the Faafu Atoll Nilandhoo Hospital has said.

President Abdulla Yameen’s administration introduced sea ambulance services in May to provide emergency transportation from all inhabited islands in the country.

There are no sea ambulances stationed at Faafu Atoll and the atoll’s islands use neighboring Dhaal Atoll’s speedboat. According to the island council, the hospital had called for a sea ambulance at midday, but the speedboat only arrived at 10pm.

According to Nilandhoo Council President Ahmed Ali, health services at Faafu Atoll Hospital are poor. He also said pregnant women routinely go to Malé to give birth, as there are no gynecologists, surgeons or anesthetists at the hospital.

The sea ambulance incident is the latest in a series of service failures in recent weeks.

The Health Ministry appealed to island councils to refrain from criticising health services, claiming councils were spreading false information in the media.

The ministry said such claims lead to a loss in confidence in health services and said it did not have the required budgetary support to buy new equipment and renovate health posts.

On Saturday, northern Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi islanders held a protest over deteriorated healthcare conditions in the region.

The Haa Dhaal council released a statement expressing concern over “comatose” health services and condemned a severe lack of doctors, equipment and facilities at the regional hospital.

The council said a woman had to be flown to Malé to sew up a cut to the vagina during childbirth and an infant suffered damages to the head during a caesarean.

“The council calls on the Ministry of Health and all relevant authorities to recruit two more gynecologists, a physician, a cardiologist, ultra sound scanning machine, an x-ray machine, 4 ECD machines, two fetal Doppler and adequate supplies for and facilities in the twelve health centers in Haa Dhaal Atoll,” the statement read.

In response, Shakeela told regional newspaper Kulhudhuffushi Online work is underway to improve regional health facilities and said the ministry is recruiting doctors to staff regional hospitals.

The Health Ministry is also in the process of purchasing a new x-ray machine and laboratory equipment for the Kulhudhuffushi hospital, she said. But the process will take time, as equipment is imported from abroad, she added.

The government in May announced it is seeking 225 additional doctors, and said it will place 91 medial officers in health centers across the country.

On June 3, councilors of the southern Fuvahmulah Island held a press conference blasting Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela for “worsening conditions” at the hospital after a case of stillbirth and the death of a soldier on the island.

In February, the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé transfused HIV positive blood to a patient due to an alleged technical error.


Health Ministry to employ 47 midwives

The Health Ministry has announced it will employ 47 midwives as part of a plan to improve maternal and child health services in the islands.

The Health Ministry said 90 applicants, including individuals aged between 55 and 65 years of age, have applied for the positions. All applicants are required to have completed a certificate course in midwifery.

The government says it plans to have at least one midwife on every island.


Government to introduce 26 ‘sea-ambulances’ by end of year

The government hopes to introduce 26 ‘sea-ambulances’ by the end of the year to provide emergency transportation for patients from all inhabited islands in the country, Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has said.

Speaking at a ceremony held at the official jetty in Malé this morning to inaugurate the sea-ambulance service, Dr Jameel noted that providing emergency medical evacuation services to citizens in the atolls was a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen.

The introduction of the sea-ambulance service “for the first in Maldivian history” would solve one of the biggest problems facing the health sector, Jameel said, which was providing urgent medical treatment to patients in geographically dispersed islands.

The cost of transporting patients from the atolls to the capital would also be significantly reduced, he noted.

The vice president said he hoped ongoing collaborative efforts by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defence would see the completion of 26 refurbished speedboats by the end of the year.

According to the Health Ministry, the two speedboats launched today will be used in Raa and Baa atolls whilst paramedical and first-aid training will be provided to the crew.

As efforts to refit speedboats were ongoing “swiftly,” the ministry said it expects to introduce two further sea-ambulances in a month and a half.

The government plans to divide the country into 23 areas to cover all inhabited islands, the ministry explained in a statement, noting that the sea-ambulances would be operated and maintained by the Maldives National Defence Force based on instructions from the Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, at today’s ceremony, the vice president officially handed over a medical equipment kit to the captain of the ‎’Kudahuvadhoo Sea Ambulance’, Mohamed Zakariya, and was provided ‎a tour.

A demonstration of sea-ambulance services ‎was also presented at the ceremony.

In his speech, Jameel meanwhile contended that the current administration had inherited a “weakened” health system, which it was attempting to “put back on its feet.”

Problems in the health sector ranged from the quality of services provided at health centres in the atolls to the lack of medical equipment, he added.

“I would like to say that we have complete confidence that we will be able to provide [health] services to the public’s satisfaction before too long,” he said.

The vice president called on employees, managers and administrative staff in the health sector to put aside political differences and to work with the government to meet the expectations of the public.

Among the achievements of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration so far was the establishment of a salary framework for doctors this month, Jameel said, which he suggested would address complaints of the lack of doctors in the atolls.

More than 200 doctors will be recruited in the near future for hospitals and health centres in the atolls, Jameel added.

The Health Ministry made an announcement last week seeking 225 doctors, including 91 medical officers, 25 gynaecologists, 19 children’s doctors, 17 physicians, 14 anaesthesiologists, 14 surgeons, 11 eye doctors, seven orthopaedic doctors, seven ENT doctors, and seven psychiatrists.

The government also revealed plans to upgrade the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in a US$7 million renovation project last week.


19 year-old Maldivian HIV patient gives birth

A 19 year-old woman with HIV has given birth to a child last week at the Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), local media have reported

According to online newspaper ‘MV Youth’ the patient was allegedly involved in a sexual relationship with a man with HIV when she was 15 years of age.

The website reported that the man who she had sex with was found guilty of having sex with the girl and sentenced to 19 lashes in 2010 by the Criminal Court. It was not confirmed whether the baby was tested positive to HIV.

Speaking to Minivan News today IGMH Spokesperson Zeenath Ali said that she had not heard of the incident.

‘’Some other news agencies had contacted me today and asked about it but I told them that only the concerned authorities such as Health Ministry and concerned persons from IGMH will have that kind of information,’’ she said.

She said she cannot confirm whether or not the information was true.

On February 27, an expatriate lab technician working at IGMH who was allegedly responsible for the transfusion of HIV positive blood to a pregnant Maldivian patient was taken into police custody.

The technician at fault reported the blood as negative despite the machine showing that it was positive for HIV.

The error was discovered when the patient came in for a routine checkup on February 18, after which the blood test report was reviewed.

The blood sample was taken from a donor found by the patient and not from the hospital’s blood bank and was not previously registered as an HIV patient.

In October 2012, the then Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed claimed it was only through “incredible luck” that HIV had not spread across the Maldives, considering the prolific levels of unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.

Jamsheed at the time spoke of the risks of promiscuity in the society, referring to the 2010 case where police arrested an HIV positive prostitute. He stated that the same prostitute had been identified in the Maldives as being HIV positive in the year 2009 as well.

Since the first case of HIV in 1991, 19 cases of HIV have been reported among Maldivians, while the estimations of HIV positive persons are as high as 70 – 100.

The Health Ministry has previously warned about a possible explosion of HIV/AIDS in the country, with high risk behavior such as drug use and numerous sexual partners a concern.


Health Ministry increases salaries of doctors

The Ministry of Health and Gender has restructured and increased doctors’ pay in January.

Health Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Geela Ali said salaries had been restructured to level foreign and local doctors’ pay. Work hours had been increased along with the salary hike, and doctors will be allowed to see patients at private clinics, she said.

However, doctors have alleged that the revisions to the doctors’ salary structure had decreased pay by as much as MVR10,000 (US$ 648).

Doctors have held meetings with the management of the public Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) over low pay, local media has reported.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have previously expressed concern over the Maldives’ large wage bill.


Government to introduce nationwide sea-ambulance service

The government has announced it is to start a sea ambulance service within two months and expand it nationwide within the year, Haveeru has reported.

In a press conference held to announce the service, Ministry of Defense Mohamed Nazim said it will be initially launched for four regions and later expanded to twenty three zones, covering the whole country. According to Haveeru, the service will be covered under the Aasandha national health insurance scheme.

“The objective is to take patients to a health center instead of bring them to Malé,” Nazim was quoted as saying.

Speed boats under the Ministry of Health, Maldives Police Services and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) are to be converted into ‘sea-ambulances’ for the service, with enough space for patients and necessary health equipment.

Quoting Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela, Haveeru reported that to this day a health ambulance service was not provided properly and only six out of twenty six speed boats owned by the ministry were usable.

The service will be begin with a government allocated budget, but will depend on funding from the United Nations and the Red Crescent, Shakeela was quoted as saying. According to the minister, the service will create new jobs, where employees will be well trained and covered by a special insurance scheme.

The MNDF will be managing the ambulances and emergency operations will be carried out by MNDF area commands.