Kulhudhuffushi protests over “comatose” regional health service

Over 300 islanders staged a protest on Saturday on northern Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi Island over deteriorating regional health services.

Protesters called for Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela’s resignation outside the Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital, claiming services have deteriorated to “conditions never seen before in recent history.”

Kulhudhuffushi Island Council President Ali Mohamed said the hospital served over 60,000 people in the region, but lacked doctors and equipment.

Following the protest, doctors at the hospital refused to work today claiming they lacked an environment conducive for work. However, they resumed work at 10:30 am after the Kulhudhuffushi Island Council and Haa Dhaal Atoll Council intervened.

Meanwhile, the Haa Dhaal Atoll Council issued a statement on Thursday condemning “comatose” health care service at the hospital and warned it will hold serial protests until grievances are addressed.

In recent weeks, a woman had to be flown to Malé when doctors could not sew up an episiotomy following labor, an infant suffered damages to the head during a caesarean, and a child was stillborn despite routine checkups, the council claimed.

The Kulhudhuffushi regional hospital has not had a physician for seven months, and has only one gynecologist. Three gynecologists are needed to serve the northern atoll’s population, the council said.

The council also highlighted a severe lack of facilities on the island. The hospital has a dentist, but the dental chair has been broken for two years and three years have passed since the x-ray machine broke down, the council said.

Further, lack of antibiotic discs for culture and thyroid tests and lack of laboratory chemicals have hampered the hospital’s ability to conduct medical tests, the council said.

Healthcare infrastructure is dilapidated, surtains are old and hospital bedding is torn, the council said.

The state had only allocated MVR 1200 (US$ 77.8) for cleaning supplies for the year. When the funds are divided among the 13 islands, each health center receives MVR 7.69 per month (US$ 0.5) or enough to buy two bars of soap every month, the council said.

“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.

The council also claimed Shakeela had not failed to respond to repeated requests for a meeting.

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.

The Health Ministry has been under fire in recent weeks following a series of health scares.

On June 3, councilors of southern Fuvahmulah Island held a press conference blasting Shakeela for “worsening conditions” at the hospital.

Councilors alleged negligence in a series of medical incidents including 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.